James Duckworth: Important to win when not playing at your best

The 27-year-old Australian admits it isn't easy to defeat potent opponents day in and day out for ATP Challenger titles.

Fighting it out: Duckworth has been soldiering on after a tough 2019 season in which he won three Challenger titles before making his debut in Pune. Photo: Special Arrangement

James Duckworth was a top-100 professional four years ago before injuries and a surgery in 2016-17 forced him to retreat. His career had hit a peak in 2015 when he rose to 82nd in the world rankings.

He has played against Roger Federer twice — as a wildcard entrant in the Australian Open in 2014, and the Brisbane International in in 2015 — and lost both times.

Ranked 111th currently, Duckworth entered the KPIT MSTLA Challenger Series here as the second seed, and is now a singles finalist. The 27-year-old Australian has been soldiering on after a tough 2019 season in which he won three Challenger titles before making his debut in this tourney.

'Up and down'

“It has been up and down for me, very bad weeks and few good weeks also. I won three Challengers (in Thailand, China, and Australia) this year before coming to India. When I play my best tennis, I am focussed and positive. My energy [level] is up and about and that is what I tried to do here,” he said.

Talking about the lessons imbibed on the climb to the top, before elbow and foot injuries forced him to return to the Challenger circuit in his quest for points and money, he said: “When I made it to the top 100 (in the 2015 season), staying healthy was a massive factor and also understanding my game. I am an aggressive sort of player, trying to get better and better at that playing style. Every top player has that identity, a playing style which he is able to do it day after day. The key is to know how you play and try to get very good at that.”

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En route to the final at the MSLTA School of Tennis Courts here, he defeated Manish Sureshkumar, Sasi Kumar Mukund and Ramkumar Ramanathan. Sasi Kumar stretched Duckworth in the quarterfinal, and Ramkumar in the semifinal, but he kept firing away, banking on serve and returns. “Throughout the tournament, you are probably not going to play your best every match. Those matches when you are not playing at your best, it is important to win. It is not easy winning these Challenger events. Winning one is [worth] 80 points, you have to do it quite a few times. You have to beat quality people. Doing that week in, week out is tough,” he said.

'Quite fast'

Duckworth felt at ease on the faster hard-courts in Pune and is willing to come back for more. “I had never been to Pune before, though had played in Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata. I will come back to Pune for the ATP surely and like the fast [court] conditions here. Serve and volley, when it is quite fast due to a bit of altitude (Pune is above sea level) is a good option. It is not easy to return, not easy to pass [your opponent] here.”


Federer, 'a great man'

Duckworth has been on the opposite side of the net against Roger Federer twice in his career so far. He lost both times and has only respect for his famous rival.

“Geez, I don’t know where he was serving. I could not read his serve. Incidentally, I have hit with him also, a great man for whom I have the highest respect.”

The two prized memories were at the Brisbane International and Australian Open.


He added: “I came here because I heard from others who played this in previous years and let me know the courts are quick, so I was keen to come here, test it out and if you are able to serve well, these conditions are good for you.”

Surprisingly, Duckworth is on the lookout for a personal coach. “I am pretty good at analysing my game and work out my solutions,” he replied when asked why he was travelling alone.

Playing opportunities at home were few. “That is in fact the toughest part. Two tournaments at the start of the year, two Challengers and then for the remaining part we are on tour. Travelling from Australia to any other part of the world is tough, including to Asia. Having a coach with me will be helpful, I am in fact looking out since the US Open and will decide on a coach in the next two weeks,” he revealed.

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