Far away from the glitz and glamour of the Miami Open qualifying, last week Luke Saville made the semi-finals of the $25k futures event 2,700 miles away in Calabasas, California.
For his efforts, Saville, a former world number 1 junior, will return to the top 500 of the singles rankings for the first time since October 2021.
Having prioritised the paired format for the last three years, the Australian has turned his back on the guaranteed luxuries of the ATP Tour lifestyle to focus on his singles game once again.
After an unexpected but thrilling run to the Australian Open doubles final alongside Max Purcell in 2020, Saville took the opportunity to focus on his doubles game. Something he did with aplomb.
Peaking at a ranking of 23 in early 2022, before the COVID-19-affected ranking system reverted to the traditional 52-week system, Saville’s doubles ranking then began to slide.
But that wasn’t before Saville successfully managed to compete in ten consecutive grand slams, represent Australia in Davis Cup and at the Tokyo Olympics, and face Novak Djokovic on Centre Court in the Paris Masters with compatriot Alex de Minaur.
Speaking to The First Serve, Saville revealed he found himself unable to resist the urge to embark upon a full-throttle singles comeback once he stepped back onto the singles court late last year.
“There’s not one thing that I can put my finger on that made that decision for me to play singles”, he said.
“But once that doubles ranking started to slip, I started to play a bit more and the juices started to flow and my motivation became stronger and stronger.
“When you’re growing up and aspiring to become a tennis player you always want to become a singles player.
“My whole mindset has sort of shifted. I’m relishing my new direction and really looking forward to giving my singles a real crack.”
Still playing doubles with a desire to maintain his current ranking of 81, Saville has made a singles quarter-final, semi-final, and final of ITF events this year watching his ranking rise 70 spots since January (and over 500 places since September). There are also three doubles titles to mention as well; evidencing he’s lost nothing of his half-court game.
Unsurprisingly, Saville, who once held a ranking of 152, believes he is poised for bigger things. However the 29-year-old is driven not by external noise or expectation, but by his own intrinsic desires and pure love of competition.
“I guess there is a bit of unfinished business but I’m more coming from a stronger motivation, my own enjoyment and happiness” he disclosed.
“I’m at peace with my decision to do this. Of course, though, I feel like I can get back to my top ranking and get inside my ranking.
“I feel like my game is in a much stronger position than it was earlier in my career. My body is in great shape. Playing doubles for the last three years I feel like I’ve got more in the tank than the ordinary 29-year-old.
“I ticked off a lot of lifelong dreams and achievements. Playing Davis Cup, playing at the Olympics, playing on centre court against Novak.
“Going back to these futures, a lot of people ask me how I feel about it and how I get my motivation on these outside courts, but for me, I love tennis and I love competing.
“I love the process of training, improving, and going out on the court to test yourself. That’s where my motivation comes from.”
Asked whether there was any hesitation in changing the course of his career, Saville wasn’t shy to admit hints of nervousness although he has more than a hint of self-belief.
“I guess there was a bit of nerves to be completely honest. But I’ve made this decision and I’m happy with it” Saville said.
“I did have a few doubts. I guess I still have a few doubts. I’m sitting at 500 or so now and I’ve still got a long way to go. But I’m confident in my level. I think that I can get back up there. Maybe I won’t, but I’m loving the challenges and being back out on the singles grind.”
In planning his year ahead, Saville intends to play a mixture of futures and challenger events with a goal in the latter to qualify and “cash in” on the greater allocation of ranking points available.
Of course, returning to the singles game is, surely, easier said than done. But Saville isn’t just diving in without checking the temperature. He’s aware of his shortcomings and what is required to improve in his game.
“It’s almost about going back to basics and learning to build the points from the baseline again” he opined.
“You have to be able to throw big these days. You need weapons out there.
“My serve has come along for sure. My forehand, which has broken down in the past, I’ve tidied that up. I want to move forward but it’s about picking the right moments.
“I’m feeling lighter. I’m moving well. I still need to drop a couple of kilograms but that’s happening organically by playing more singles.”
Irrespective of the challenges ahead for Saville, he’s calm, confident, and, importantly, willing to remain patient.
To reject the safety and security of life on the doubles circuit at the ATP and challenger level in favour of re-entering the ITF futures tour is without question a noble decision akin to taking the lower-paying not-for-profit role. At least for now.
Saville, helpfully, has very few ranking points to protect for the remainder of the year and, if he can continue the form that saw him make the final of the second ITF even in Swan Hill (losing in three sets to Tom Fancutt in the final), there’s no reason we can’t see the South Australian at least feature in grand slam qualifying later this year.
And should he ever find himself strapped for motivation, Saville knows he need only look to his wife, Daria, who is embarking upon another comeback of her own following ACL surgery.
This being mere months after being nominated for WTA comeback player of the year in 2022 having re-entered the top 50 following a long battle with a separate achilles tendon injury and plantar fasciitis in the years prior.
“I’ve seen all the hardships she’s been through” Saville acknowledged.
“Her level is insane. To go from 600 to 50 in eight months was incredible. She racked up so many quality wins.
“I see what she’s going through again. She’s very hungry to get back out there.
“We bounce ideas off each other. She’s right behind me on this one and we support each other all the way.”