James Duckworth could see the question coming and started smiling even while being asked how on earth Lleyton Hewitt could leave him out of Australia’s Davis Cup finals team.
“Look, I don’t pick the team,” shrugged the man who’s currently playing better tennis than any of his compatriots, including the No.1 Alex de Minaur.
“You’d have to ask Lleyton the reasons why.”
The Australian No.2 had just lost in his first-ever Masters quarter-final in Paris on Friday but only after a desperately close three-setter with Hubert Hurkacz, which demonstrated again Duckworth’s now even perfectly equipped to scare rising top-tenners like the Pole.
But while his omission from this month’s finals is clearly a deep disappointment for him, the 29-year-old who’s found a remarkable new lease of life in a rare injury-free season sounds determined to ensure he won’t be overlooked by Hewitt again.
Next week, he will become a top-50 player for the first time at No.47, getting ever closer to de Minaur, who’s slipped down to 33 after a poor run.
And he’s determined that his progression, now that he’s having a clear run following eight surgeries to foot, elbow and shoulder over eight years, is far from finished as he approaches his 30th birthday in January.
“Yeah, I hope so, I still feel like there are quite a few areas in my game that I can get better at,” said Duckworth, when asked by AAP on Friday if he felt he could soar even higher in the rankings.
“I’ll be trying to do that in this off-season. I’ve got my two weeks’ hotel quarantine now (on returning to Australia), but then I will get five weeks to prepare for the Aussie summer.
“I’ll work really hard with my coach, Wayne Arthurs, and the goal is just to keep improving my game.”
And, clearly, regaining his Davis Cup place will drive him, such is his evident passion to play for Australia at every opportunity.
“I love representing my country,” he explained.
“I got the chance to play Davis Cup just before the pandemic hit in March 2020 and that was an awesome experience, getting my gold jacket and my number.
And then I got the chance to play the Olympics this year. That was also really cool, something that I’ll never, ever forget. I’d love to do again.
“Representing Australia is something that I have always wanted to do. When I was young, the big events I would watch would be all the grand slams and Davis Cup.
“Any chance that I could get to representing my country, I would grab it with both hands. But that was just the decision Lleyton made …”
“I think I should be able to get a run in ATP Cup (next January), so that would be good. Looking forward to that.
“And if we have to play another (Davis Cup) tie in March next year, I’ll see what I can do, try my best to get selected then.
“Obviously, it’s tough to be super positive right now, straight after a 7-5-in-the-third loss (to Hurkacz) and missing the chance to make a semi in a Masters Series. To play Novak (Djokovic in the semis) would have been pretty cool.
“But in a couple of days, I’ll definitely take a lot of positives from this week.”