With his stellar 2021 form halted by a hip injury that required the ninth surgery of his career, a determined James Duckworth begins a comeback in Lyon this week.
There was much to celebrate as James Duckworth completed his best season with a first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal appearance last November.
Combined with a maiden ATP final appearance in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, an ATP Challenger title in Istanbul and quarterfinal run in Sofia, Duckworth finished the 2021 season ranked inside the world’s top 50 for the first time.
Wins over top-20 opponents David Goffin, Jannik Sinner and Roberto Bautista Agut further bolstered confidence in his career-best year. But as he contemplated his next steps, Duckworth was facing yet another physical challenge in a career that has included many of them.
In his final match against Hubert Hurkacz in Paris – when he extended the world No.10 to three sets – the Australian had also suffered a hip injury that would reveal itself the next day.
“It was a pretty tricky period for me. Obviously I finished the year playing really well and I played my last match in Paris and I felt 100 per cent,” Duckworth told tennis.com.au.
“But I finished the match, and I woke up the next day and I couldn’t bend. I just thought ‘you know, I’m a bit stiff and sore from a long year’ – obviously being away from home for just over six months straight – but the pain never went away.”
Determined to compete in his much-loved Australian summer tournaments, Duckworth nevertheless embraced the opportunity to debut for his nation at the ATP Cup and pushed French veteran Adrian Mannarino to five sets in the Australian Open first round.
Hat’s off to you, James Duckworth 🤣
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) January 4, 2022
Almost immediately after that three-hour-plus battle in Melbourne, surgery became the only option for Australia’s No.2 man. Performed by Melbourne surgeon John O’Donnell, the operation revealed a rare and serious labral tear.
“He couldn’t believe I’d played the Aussie summer,” said Duckworth, explaining that Dr O’Donnell had seen the injury only once before in the thousands of hip surgeries he’d conducted.
Marking the ninth surgery he’s experienced over the past decade – Duckworth having also undergone multiple operations on his right elbow, right foot and right shoulder between 2012 and 2020 – the Australian was no stranger to the rehabilitation process.
“The first few weeks are pretty boring, where you sort of can’t do a whole lot and then it was just a process of gradually getting range back, getting strength into it and then just slowly introducing movement and then getting on court,” he explained of his most recent recovery time.
Duckworth looks back on the many interruptions with both a measure of frustration and pride in his proven resilience. “It’s pretty tough watching all these tournaments that you love go ahead. Especially those Masters Series that have just gone by, Indian Wells and Miami. Davis Cup was also difficult,” he explained.
“But then on the flip side, once I’ve gotten through a number of these operations – I guess you appreciate the good times more. And once I sort of get through them, I feel like it was definitely all worth it.”
While pointing to the support of his family and friends as instrumental to his progress, Duckworth also notes the important influence of coach Wayne Arthurs. “We started just privately in the middle of COVID and he’s a great coach, very knowledgeable,” Duckworth related. “He’s really helped me to have the success that I have had. I daresay I wouldn’t have had it without his input.
“He’s just one of those people that really cares about the player that he works with. You know, I sense that, and I think that sort of goes a long way.”
As he reflected on a season that included a maiden third-round appearance at Wimbledon, Duckworth noted how Arthurs had helped him develop a more attacking game.
“We were working just a lot on my game style and playing aggressive and sort of sticking to that in pressure situations and I think I just gradually got a lot better at that,” he explained. “I was pleased with how my game was sort of developing and at the level I’d taken it to.”
Preparing to contest his first tour event in almost four months at this week’s ATP 250 tournament in Lyon, Duckworth’s positive outlook has revealed itself in other ways.
With both the gym and the clay-courts at the National Tennis Academy in Brisbane damaged by recent floods in the city, Duckworth has been driving each day to alternative courts and training facilities in Ipswich.
Alongside the hard work, there has also been some time to recharge in the Brisbane home that he and his girlfriend Madison purchased last year. More recently, the pair celebrated a special occasion when they announced their engagement last month.
While physically recovered, Duckworth also feels mentally refreshed in his return to the tour. “Oh look, I’m jumping at the bit. I’ve had enough time in my new house. I love it but I just want to get out there and play,” said the determined 30-year-old. “I’m ready to go.”
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