James Duckworth wins Pune Challenger

The win will move the Australian to No 82 in the world, granting him direct entry into the main draw of his home Grand Slam in January.

Singles runner-up Jay Clarke (2nd from left) and champion James Duckworth (fourth from left) after the KPIT MSLTA Challenger final at the Balewadi sports complex tennis court.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Crowd favourite James Duckworth gave himself the best chance of making a mark at the Australian Open 2020 by winning the KPIT MSLTA Challenger Series singles title, beating Jay Clarke over three-action packed sets 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a final spanning two hours, 18 minutes at the MSLTA School of Tennis hard courts in Pune on Sunday.

The points for winning the title will push Duckworth to 82nd in the world when the new ATP rankings are released on Monday, granting the Australian direct entry into the main draw of his home Grand Slam in January.

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Going into the final against the Brit, the second seeded Aussie came into the event ranked 111. The realisation that a win on debut in Pune will push him into the top 100 – for the second time in his career after 2015 – led to early jitters. “I was nervous at the start, thinking about a win here getting me into the (Australian) Open without a wildcard. I made mistakes, (but) recovered in time.”

Duckworth weathered a storm in the first set as Clarke proved competent in the serve-and-volley game and wily at the net. The second seed pulled himself up in the second set, the third set saw both finalists go into auto mode and produced winners to which the crowd responded with sustained applause. Both varied their shots, ventured to the net frequently, and tested each other with drop shots when not regaining balance at the baseline to hit stunning winners down the lines.

When match point was clinched with a backhand sliced passing shot to leave Clarke standing, Duckworth collapsed on the court facing the sky, kicking his legs in delight and relief as the fans rose to cheer a new champion in the sixth edition of the tournament.

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“The injuries and recovery flashed through the mind, the hours spent trying to play after repeated surgeries to shoulder, foot and elbow. At one stage, I thought of giving up tennis, my family support and self-belief kept me going,” the champion said.

Duckworth will be richer by $7,200, valuable money for a Grand Slammer funding the Tour expenses from his own pocket. “I don’t have a sponsor and now after getting into the top 100, (I) hope to get noticed. Returning to tennis after what my body went through, winning gives me the confidence to give my best at the Australian Open at home,” said the Sydney-born player, who at 27 is looking to cash in before time runs out. The runner-up will earn $4,240.

In doubles, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Puraj Raja, the top seeds, won as expected.

Ramkumar set aside his singles semifinal loss as the duo won an exciting final in two sets against compatriots Saketh Myneni and Arjun Kadhe. The winning pair earned $3,100 and the runners-up $1,800.

Results (finals)

Singles: James Duckworth (Australia) bt Jay Clark (Great Britain) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4

Doubles: Ramkumar Ramanathan & Purav Raja bt Saketh Myneni &Arjun Kadhe 7-6 (3), 6-3