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"I LOVE THE ATMOSPHERE AND ENVIRONMENT" - JAMES DUCKWORTH AHEAD OF AO.



In any walk of life, there comes the controllable aspects that only an individual is responsible for - Hard work, effort, and commitment.


Australian world number 95 James Duckworth ticks all of those boxes, but it’s the uncontrollable aspect of sport that has plagued his career - Injuries.


Surgeries including three on his right foot, three on his right elbow, two on his right shoulder, and one hip operation has ultimately robbed a tennis livelihood of the opportunity to maximise his full potential. That talent came to the surface when James ‘Duckman’ Duckworth reached the semi-finals of the 2010 French Open juniors.


However, the 31-year-old has put all of the recent pain and struggles to one side to find a new lease of life on the court, evident through winning back-to-back Challenger titles in October and making a run to the Brisbane International quarter-finals earlier this month.


In an exclusive interview with The First Serve, Duckworth revealed where his confidence levels are at coming into the Australian Open.


“I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve had some positive results toward the back-end of last year and I played well last week (in Brisbane),” Duckworth told The First Serve.


I feel like I’ve put in a good training block which has helped me feel confident with where my game is at and hopefully I can show it next week.”


Set to feature in his 11th Australian Open campaign, Duckworth isn’t fazed by the occasion of Grand Slam tennis in his own backyard.


In 2014, he faced Roger Federer on Rod Laver Arena in the first round at Melbourne Park before facing Rafael Nadal at the same stage in the same venue five years later.


Experience is priceless before entering any major tournament, but how important is it to lean on those learning curves as time moves on?


“It’s definitely an advantage. I feel very comfortable playing here mainly because I love the atmosphere and environment,” he said.


“Playing in front of a home crowd is really special and it really helps us Aussies to perform, but I’m just really excited to get out on court and I can’t wait to play.”


Next Gen semi-finalist Luca Van Assche comes across as a precarious challenge given the Frenchman is only 19 years of age and has never faced Duckworth on tour.


The Sydneysider explained how he prepares against unfamiliar opponents.


“I’ll sit down with my coach and watch a fair bit of footage,” said Duckworth.


“We’ll see what he does well and where I can exploit his weaknesses to then map out a game plan in the coming days. Hopefully that helps achieve a good result.”


A special piece of history is embedded in the family, as Duckworth’s grandmother, Beryl Penrose, won the 1955 Australian Open singles and doubles titles.


When it comes to carrying a certain expectation based on the success of a relative, every individual handles it in a multitude of  different ways.


For Duckworth, he’s remained grounded right throughout his career as he spoke about the potential pressures of Penrose’s major silverware.


“There’s definitely no pressure in that respect to perform,” he confirmed.


“It’s an achievement that’s pretty cool and something that I can be proud of for sure, but it’s never been something that I’ve thought about since the start of my career.”


Last year, the former Olympics representative entered 28 tournaments in 11 different countries in a bid to climb up the ATP standings and give himself the best chance of competing in more prestigious events.


Although the travelling has almost become second nature to Duckworth, it does throw up its fair share of challenges.


“You get used to the travelling, but at the same time it’s not easy,” he said.


“Playing away from home for roughly 35 weeks of the year and not being able to see friends and family can definitely have its challenges when you’re essentially living out of a suitcase.


“In saying that, I’ve been doing the same routine for a number years now and at the end of the day it’s the life of a tennis player to be on the road for the majority of time.”


The live ATP rankings indicate nine Aussies in the top 100 including Duckworth, providing arguably a reasonable sample size to suggest that the future of Australian tennis isn’t so bleak.


As a result of being present in the locker rooms with the likes of Alex De Minaur, Jordan Thompson, and Max Purcell, Duckwroth touched on his relationship with the core Australian players.


“It’s great to see so many Australian players in the main draw,” Duckworth said.


“It’s funny because we were all chatting recently; I just got back inside the top 100, but I’m still number eight in the state I’m from which is New South Wales, so that’s absolutely incredible.


“All of those boys in the top 100 are playing well, but I think we all get along really well. We practice a bunch of times at numerous tournaments and there’s a really good sense of comradery amongst all the Aussies.


“We’re pushing each other to reach new levels. You’ve got Alex (De Minaur) who just cracked into the top 10 last week and he’s obviously leading the way which is great for Australian tennis.”


Looking ahead to the rest of the year as the season is still young, what are some of the main focal points that Duckworth wants to achieve for the Australian Open and 2024?


“I’m just looking to stay fit and healthy and keep finding ways to improve my overall game which will put me in good stead for the year to come.”

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