Australian Tennis Player Calum Puttergill is giving us some insights into the Australian Pro Tour swing through to the end of November. Darwin wrapped up last weekend, with the players now preparing for a fortnight in far north Queensland
Players from around Australia and the globe produced three weeks of high quality tennis at Darwin International Tennis Centre, with a men’s UTR Pro Series leading into two 25k ITF men’s and women’s events.
There was a bit of blood let, a hell of a lot of sweat, no doubt some discreet tears, and much effort from not only the players, but also the coaches and events staff during this swing of events.
On Sunday night at 11:41pm local time we saw a fitting ending to the last of the three tournaments as both week one 25k winners, Alex Bozovic and Dane Sweeny, backed up to clinch matching titles in week two. Let me walk you through the happenings of the week.
Due to the heat, matches started at 3pm each day but the tennis still remained fiery. As first rounds kicked off we saw a strong ladies dual with contrasting game styles as double-handed forehand seasoned Thai Luksika KumKhum, who has been as high as 66 in the WTA rankings counterpunched her way through Ukrainian Marianna Zakaelyuk 2-6 6-1 6-2. On centre court, in a battle of the Aussie youngsters, Kamenoff endured a see-saw ride to outlast Repac 7-6 0-6 6-1, while the rest of the women’s first round proceeded without the cost of any seeds.
On the men’s side we saw ‘03 born Aussie Ethan Cook grab a hold of his first singles ATP point, with a composed 6-4 7-6 win over doubles partner Tom Pavlekovic Smith, who is uniquely rumoured to bench press in between matches. Battle of the fiery young guns ensued with Phil Sekulic taking down Jeremy Jin 6-3 6-4. Blake Ellis kept rising third-time qualifier Amor Jasika at bay with a 6-4 6-4 win. Kiwi Rubin Statham held strong under pressure, saving three match points against Aussie US college player Jeremy Taylor, who was pressing for his first ATP point. And Calum Puttergill (oh that’s me!) made the most of a physically hindered mate 3rd seed Tristan Schoolkate who had been carrying the boats all week.
Big shout-out to the legend Derek Pham whose perseverance acquired him his first of many ATP points - I love to see you out there mate, and wish you continued health.
Second rounds on the women’s side, we had a family affair with cousins Naiktha and Roopa Bains squaring off. This time the older and more experienced of the two, Naiktha, came through 6-4 6-4, but I’m sure Roopa will be hungry to claim family queen status soon. At the top of the draw Lisa Mays pushed top seed Australian Alex Bozovic the distance with Bozovic navigating her way through 6-1 3-6 6-4. The Melbourne based left-handed Kiwi, Monique Barry, made her maiden quarterfinal with a convincing 6-3 6-3 win over American Jessica Failla.
Two Queenslanders Mitch Harper and Phil Sekulic faced off in the second round in as many weeks, and again it was Sekulic who held off the clean early ball striker, Harper, to dig out a 4-6 6-1 6-4 win. American Kyle Seelig continued his fine form and proved too strong for Blake Ellis. Dane Sweeny prevailed over Alex “the anaesthetist” Crnokrak whose leaning Tower of Pisa-esque huge serve and energy-efficient counter-punch style, seemed to lull Sweeny into some early troubles before he found his top gear. Under the sun on court one, the young Prince, James Mccabe, competed his way through a tough task against Brisbane-based Northern Mariana Islander, Colin Sinclair.
Up to the women’s quarterfinals and the day’s trend was convincing straight sets victories. Talia Gibson took down second seed Naiktha Bains 6-3 6-2. After opting to forgo her junior career, she started this year ranked 1200 WTA and has stunningly won three 15k titles and cut her ranking down to 492.
Omar Jasika has been riding a wave of earned rewards this year, since making his comeback, somehow going from no ranking to a near grand slam qualfying ranking of 273 - a phenomenal feat. Jasika marched into his Quarterfinal match against Sekulic expecting the unexpected, knowing the explosive forehand and energy of the 19-year-old wasn’t to be taken lightly. Jasika wrestled off the signature Sekulic “vamos”’ to get over the line 7-5 4-6 6-3.
Adam Walton scored some revenge from a week prior, running away with a 6-4 3-6 6-0 win over Mccabe. The equanimous 23-year-old scored dividends with his almost Tesla-like fuel consumption, while fellow “brick walls” Seelig and Sweeny, made up the final four.
In the first of the women’s semi-finals, Bozovic handled savvy Slovakian journey-woman Zuzana Zlochova 6-2 6-3, and Gibson got a super-sweet multiple match point-saving 6-7 7-5 6-3 revenge win after home favourite, Thai Kumkhum snipped her in the final earlier this year.
Two hours in, on a hot Saturday afternoon and both men’s singles semi finals were still locked in battle in the second set. Over on centre court Seelig and Jasika were trading off repetitive ground stroke patterns, both unwilling to compromise shot selection and tap out of the rally. It was Jasika, whose ability to sustain a high level for long periods this year and mentally tax the opponent, awarded him a hard fought 7-5 4-6 6-3 victory.
The second semi-final was match of the tournament in my eyes; Sweeny and Walton clawing each other back to level every time one tried to peel away. After an hour and a half Sweeny took the first set 7-6 and after serving for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 and having two match points in the second, the duo found themselves in another tie break. After another three match points were saved by Walton, he then clutched the second set 10-8 in the tiebreak.
Both guys had glimpses of cramp deep in the third, yet, both would then regroup and move as if fresh. The match went down to the wire, climaxing in a third consecutive tiebreak as Sweeny eventually willed himself over the line. The pair of Queenslanders fought in tremendous spirits for a wild 4 hours 15 minutes. I felt lucky to be present for the battle!
In a rematch from last week’s quarterfinal, two in-form Australian players Alex Bozovic and Talia Gibson took to the court for the women’s final and match of the week. 18-year-old Gibson, who performs like an unfazed “silent assassin”, has been on an impressive incline this year under the highly experienced guidance of Dave Taylor.
Gibson came out with a vengeance, striking the ball out the middle, and after a marathon first three games, clawed away from Bozovic to take the first set 6-3. Bozovic impressively never panicked as she steadied her ship in the second set, covering the court and keeping Gibson a little more off balance, grabbing the set 6-3. Early In the final set Bozovic found some good serves under pressure and remained a little more error-tight than aggressive Gibson. For the second week running, she secured victory with the final score 3-6 6-3 6-3. The stuffed Lizard trophy and the crucial 50 WTA points were promptly awarded, as Bozovic thanked those involved and darted off hoping to make her soon departing 9pm flight over to Perth for the University Games.
Both Alex and Talia spoke to Brett Phillips on 'The First Serve' on Monday Night. You can listen back HERE
In the men’s final, two good mates and fellow upwards trending Aussie players, 21-year-old Sweeny and 25- year-old Jasika, clashed in an exciting matchup. Both know each other’s game and baseline patterns very well and both possess exceptional speed and anticipation.
Expectations were met in the first rally as their matching low centres of gravity and beautifully-shaped ground strokes wowed the crowd with a 25+ shot rally right out of the blocks. With Sweeny’s ever-evolving forehand and Hewitt-like backhand, he tested out the Jasika redirection, sponge changing heights and spins. Sweeny carried out his usual end range plant-and-slide ground strokes, taking the first set 6-3. After an abundance of jaw-dropping, long exchanges, Jasika served at 4-5 30-40 in the second as he painted the singles line with a rally-ending backhand and about as much spin as a Norrie steer. After saving the match point Jasika fought his way to a 7-4 win in the tiebreak.
Third sets have been a regular and happy place for Sweeny this year. Reigniting the same reset, problem solve and fight mode, that he implemented a day prior against Walton, he came back from the missed opportunities and dug his way to the finish line, 6-3.
The back-to-back titles in Darwin see Sweeny climb to a career high of 245 on the live rankings. The Sunshine Coast local has flaunted his “bottomless fuel tank”, winning 7 out of 7 three-set matches over the two weeks.
The tour now heads to Cairns where they’re hosting back to back 25k mens and women’s events see all of the same competitors plus a few extra well known Australians join the field. Alex Bolt, a household name in January, looks to make his long awaited comeback to the match court, the ever capable flamboyant South Australian a dangerous fixture usually sitting inside the top 200, now he lurks unseeded. Queenslands best spearhead the women’s list with Priscilla Hon (163), Lizette Cabrera (208), Kim Birrell (309), an injury returning persistent Kayla McPhee and a top 10 ITF junior Australia’s own 16 yr old Taylah Preston all returning to play on home soil for the first time since March
Matches in Cairns will be live streamed as the main draw kicks off on Tuesday the 4th of October.