CAREER-BEST WIN SEES O'CONNELL REACH THE THIRD ROUND OF THE AO


Photograph: Getty Images

From cleaning boats to the third round of the Australian Open.

That dream became a reality for 27-year-old Australian wildcard Christopher O’Connell on Thursday at Melbourne Park, when he claimed a career-best 7-6(6), 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 13 seed Diego Schwartzman in front of a boisterous crowd on Show Court 3.

After a treacherous run with injury, the Sydneysider took a break from the tour in 2018 and found himself on Sydney’s Northern Beaches cleaning boats. Less than four years later, he’s into the third round of his home major.


"It's the biggest win of my career. To do it at the Australian Open, second round, it's an unbelievable feeling," O'Connell said in his post-match press conference.


"It's the best feeling I've ever had on a tennis court. Been playing tennis since I was four. To have moments like this, yeah, it's a dream come true. It's a little corny, but yeah, it is."

The first set of this contest was a serious arm wrestle. It was the Argentine who drew blood first, breaking O’Connell for a 4-3 lead and consolidating to move 5-3 ahead. But the Aussie was not discouraged. He remarkably managed to save three set points when Schwartzman served for the opening set, breaking back and forcing a tiebreaker, to eventually claim it it 8-6.


"It was crucial to get that first set, especially in the heat," O'Connell said.


"It was just getting hotter and hotter. I just hung tough, really tried to use the crowd's energy, which I haven't done that really in the past. I mean, last year I didn't really take in my surroundings all that muchon that court. This time when I walked out on court, I really took it in, really got to know the court. I think that helped me get the first set."

The second set was very much similar to the first. Extended rallies and lots of tight service games. The Aussie, trusting his game plan pushed the No. 13 seed well behind the baseline and used his one-handed backhand, loaded with topspin to drag Schwartzman around the court and earn his points. O’Connell broke for a 5-4 lead and held serve to love to claim the second set 6-4.

In complete control, and with the raucous crowd behind him, O'Connell came out on top in the deciding set, breaking early to move 3-1 ahead. Schwartzman eventually broke back to level the set at 4-4, but was then broken once again - to love. O'Connell, growing in confidence closed out the third set 6-4, and with that advanced to the third round of a major for the first time.


It was evident the Aussie did his homework, executing his game plan to perfection. He explained he's been preparing for moments like this for many months and is extremely pleased to have former world No. 39 Marinko Matosevic in his corner.


"The process didn't start yesterday. It's been happening all of last year. I've been working with Marinko [Matosevic]. He's just really confident with how I want to play tennis now. It's the first time I've really had a one-on-one coach literally every day with me. Marinko was such a great player. Yeah, all his knowledge of the game, he's just putting it onto me. Yeah, like I said, the preparation started a year ago when I started working with him."


Next up, O'Connell will face a player who could not be more of a polar opposite to that of Schwartzman. The giant serve-volleying American Maxime Cressy, who is having a majorly impressive summer so far, having reached the final of the Melbourne Summer Set, the quarter-finals of the Sydney Tennis Classic, and now the third round at Melbourne Park.


"Yeah, completely different player to Schwartzman, which is going to be interesting. I played Isner in Atlanta last year, which, yeah, was an experience. Yeah, I'm looking forward to playing Cressy. He's in really good form," O'Connell exclaimed.