James Duckworth’s tremendous week at the Paris Masters has been ended in the quarter-finals but not before the resurgent Australian stretched Hubert Hurkacz to the limit over three tough sets.
Hurkacz’s 6-2 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 victory on Friday will take him into the season-ending ATP Finals featuring the world’s top eight players but Duckworth, continuing his purple patch, made the Pole work hard for the privilege.
Still, the excellent quality of his performance was little consolation for the Sydneysider as his chance of a first-ever match against Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals passed him by.
“Obviously, tough to sort of be super-positive right now, straight after 7-5 in the third loss and with the chance to make a semi in a Masters Series. To play Novak would have been pretty cool,” said Duckworth.
“But, look, in a couple of days, I’ll definitely take a lot of positives from this week. Since Miami, I feel like I have been playing some good tennis and improving.”
Duckworth has indeed been enjoying the season of his life after a career scarred by eight bouts of surgery and he never took a backward step as he produced a performance full of aggression and invention to fight back from a set down.
Yet in his first ever Masters 1000 quarter-final, the never-say-die 29-year-old eventually succumbed in a nervy denouement after two hours and 12 minutes.
He took Hurkacz to deuce at 5-5 in the decider but that was as near as Duckworth got to earning the biggest win of his career as the Pole, who’s been one of the best hard court players of the year, held on and piled on the pressure in the next game, earning victory on his third match point.
In an extraordinary finale, Hurkacz chased down Duckworth’s drop shot and somehow managed to reach the ball and slightly fortuitously scoop it over the stranded Aussie, who looked completely dumbfounded after a performance which had said everything about his resilience and spirit.
“I was probably a little bit unlucky on that match point,” he mused.
“Got that little half chance at five-all and I wouldn’t change anything. I think I did the right thing. Second serve, come in, make him come up with a pass, which he did.”
Duckworth’s consolation after another major breakthrough week will be to join the world’s top 50 for the first time next week when he jumps from his current ranking of 55 to a prospective 47.
And he believes he can get even better with a season of full fitness behind him.
“I hope so. You know, I still feel like there is quite a few areas in my game that I can get better at. I’ll be trying to do that in this off-season,” he said.
Instead of having his dream match with Djokovic, though, it will be Hurkacz who meets the world No.1 in the last four after the Serb powered past American Taylor Fritz 6-4 6-3 in 73 minutes to remain on course for a record-extending sixth Paris Masters title.
Hurkacz will join Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev, Matteo Berrettini and Casper Ruud in the ATP Finals in Turin from 14-21 November.
“It feels incredible. Growing up as a kid, seeing all those top guys playing in the Finals, it’s inspiring,” the 24-year-old said.
“Now being among them, it’s very special because it’s just eight spots there.”