Grim to great for new Aussie hope

James Duckworth conceded his future looked “grim” when three foot operations left him unable to run or even hop three years ago.

But feeling pain free, the 29-year-old Aussie is eyeing off a first-ever spot in the Australian Open third round and is hitting the ball “as well as I have for five years”.

All told Duckworth has undergone eight surgeries on foot, shoulder and elbow injuries since February 2017. The constant injuries did lead to those “is it all over?” moments.

But continually looking for answers pushed him towards a recovery that now has him on the precipice of his best Australian Open return.

A victory over Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime on Wednesday will advance Duckworth to the third round for the first time in eight attempts at Melbourne Park.

“In 2017 and the first part of 2018, when I had the three foot operations, that was really tough. There were quite a few periods where I just wasn’t improving … there was a fair bit of uncertainty,” Duckworth said after his first round win.

“Going through such a long stage where I couldn’t run, couldn’t jump, couldn’t hop … was tough.

“Once I overcome that first step and could slowly jump pain free, I gradually improved.

Duckworth gets it done 😎

He defeats Damir Dzumhur in straight sets to advance to the second [email protected] | #GoAussies | #AO2021 pic.twitter.com/wxA17fiG5D

“I wouldn’t say I ever thought about giving up, but there were times it was looking pretty grim. That year-and-a-half, tennis wise, was the worst I have had in my career.”

The turnaround has been strong. Last year Duckworth achieved a career-high ranking of71, played Davis Cup, and on Monday broke a first-round losing streak at Grand Slams that stretched back to 2015.

“I definitely appreciate being healthy, playing these events and winning matches like these a lot more after going through those rough periods,” Duckworth said.

“The last three, four months, I am happy with how I am hitting the ball. I probably haven’t hit the ball this well for five years, so I’m really happy and confident in myself right now. Hopefully, I can win a few more matches.”

Duckworth will be joined in action on Wednesday by South Australian Alex Bolt, who has a tougher match against Bulgarian 18th seed, Grigor Dimitrov.

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