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A few happy endings, then. Or beginnings. Or restarts. Call them what you will. Bernard Tomic was tested, but successful in his first Australian Open match since being booed off the court as a non-finisher against Rafael Nadal a year ago, while James Duckworth rewrote the last chapter of his own dramatic medically inspired story from 2013 to join Tomic, duck-breakers Marinko Matosevic, Sam Groth and Jarmila Gajdosova as early local entries into the second round.
There were, of course, multiple casualties on a grand slam day that featured 13 Australians, among them wildcard losers Luke Saville, John Millman, Jordan Thompson, Arina Rodionova, Daria Gavrilova and Storm Sanders. But Tomic was the biggest name to survive it, a four-set winner over 95th-ranked German Tobias Kamke on Hisense Arena.
“It was a very emotional win for me after last year,” said the 22-year-old Queenslander, who was streaky at times but finished strongly and at least was cheered warmly off the court after an almost three hours. Twelve months ago, he was lambasted for a controversial injury retirement just a set into his opening round night match against Rafael Nadal; the ensuing send-off shown to have been even more uncharitable when Tomic’s next move was to book in for double hip surgery.
“I’m OK now – now I’m OK,” he said, having sealed the match with a 25th ace, to book a second round appointment with another, more senior German, 22nd seed Philipp Kohlschreiber, whom Tomic beat in straight sets in Sydney last week. “After the first set I wasn’t so good, so hopefully I can recover well.”
After a horribly unwise, premature, return in Miami in March that lasted for less than the length of a standard sitcom episode and could have done with some canned laughter as an accompanying soundtrack, so ridiculous was what unfolded against Jarko Nieminen in record time. And this was not a 28-minute benchmark to be proud of.
“It was only at Wimbledon in July that Tomic found himself moving decisively forward again. Then, as the world No.124, he refloated the sinking ship with a second career title, at the Colombian Open in Bogota. January, more reliably, is where his best non-Wimbledon results have come, a pair of home quarter-finals already on board in 2015.
Thus, the trajectory is upwards again, with a 66 beside his name, and virtually no points to defend until mid-season. This was a streaky effort, but a determined one. Tomic’s seventh consecutive Australian Open is his 21st grand slam main draw, and the standout result remains clearly the Wimbledon quarter-final of 2011.
But he has been productive, too, at Melbourne Park. Since early career losses to Gilles Muller and Marin Cilic in his mid-teen-prodigy years, it has taken either Nadal or Roger Federer to eliminate Tomic in his home major for the past four.
Kohlschreiber acknowledged he had learnt plenty from the most recent meeting. “For sure, he’s the home crowd favourite, it’s going to be a big match on a big court. But I also have good memories here in Melbourne on big courts so I hope for a great match.”
Amid much quack, quacking on court six, meanwhile, Duckworth avoided a repeat of his dramatic 2013 hard-luck story by reversing that dramatic result, one round earlier, against Blaz Kavcic. In the Melbourne Park sauna two years ago, Duckworth cramped in the four-hour-plus match played in 40-degree heat, and Kavcic collapsed nearby in the locker-room after it, carted off on a trolley by medical staff forced to administer an intravenous drip, a spent force before his next match even began.
Which was too late for Duckworth, obviously, but although still a wildcard recipient, he is a better, stronger player who turns 23 on Wednesday, and a handy cavalryman behind the Special Ks and others with higher rankings and profiles. He is also a solid citizen, with a good, attacking game, and when the Slovenian netted a last forehand, he fell to his knees and kissed the court, then punched the air, beaming. That one – 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (9-7), 3-6, 6-2 – felt good.
“It was big to get one back on him after he beat me in that thriller a couple of years ago,” said the Brisbane-based Sydneysider. “But it was moreso just being able to play a better style of play and then being able to give myself the best opportunity to play in the next round.”
Duckworth won 40 of his 68 net points over 15 minutes short of four hours, but prevailed despite 13 double-faults among 80 unforced errrors; to die wondering is clearly not his thing. So the world No.120 lives on, into the third round for the third time in four attempts, and into the path of 24th seed Richard Gasquet, who won a five-set encounter at Wimbledon last year.
What does he have to hurt the Frenchman? “I think I have an all right serve. I think my ability to come forward a bit, you know, make him pass me will trouble a lot of the top guys,” said Duckworth, whos mindset will be “just to play aggressive tennis and really just take it to him, make him beat me. Yeah, that’s the goal.”
Melbourne-based Groth celebrated his first Australian Open main draw win in three attempts, and second at grand slam level after last year’s US Open, with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 defeat against Serb Filip Krajinovic.
“During that second set I wasn’t probably making as many groundies as I wanted to, but thankfully my serve held true and I started to build some pressure,” said Groth, 27. “I had love-40 there, and I just decided I was coming to the net in that last game, and whatever happened, happened, and it worked out for me.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.