Shattered 'Ducks' will see the bright side

Ian ChadbandAAP
Australian battler James Duckworth is getting closer to that elusive first ATP title.
Camera IconAustralian battler James Duckworth is getting closer to that elusive first ATP title. Credit: AAP

James Duckworth may have been "shattered" by losing his first-ever ATP Tour final in the Astana Open - but the popular Australian with the never-say-die attitude may yet come to see his terrific run in Kazakhstan as another major milestone in his resurgent career.

The experienced Sydneysider admitted he never expected at the start of last week to make the final of the hardcourt event in Nur-Sultan - his first appearance in a tour-level final in 11 years of trying - so that in itself represented a serious breakthrough.

Ultimately, he may have lost 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 on Sunday to South Korean Kwon Soon-woo, a rising 23-year-old who was enjoying his first triumph on tour, but Duckworth had enjoyed potentially a new lease of life at the age of 29.

He starts this week at a new career-high of 56, some achievement considering that he began the year outside the top hundred.

And now he's flying straight off to Bulgaria to compete in this week's Sofia Open and see if he can overcome a touch of inevitable weariness that comes with winning nine of 10 matches over the past fortnight - he also won a second-tier Challenger event in Istanbul - and perhaps even break into the top 50 for the first time.

"It is difficult right now. I am pretty shattered," Duckworth conceded, after seeing his big chance slip away when he failed to convert any of three set points against Kwon in the opening stanza tiebreak and then saw an early break in the second set get pegged back.

"I imagine in a couple of days' time I will look at it as a positive week but today was pretty tough.

"All in all, I hadn't made it past the semi-finals before, and I beat some real quality players from the start of the week and played some great tennis.

"I am sure it will be more positive in a couple of days than it is right now."

That's the sort of positivity you'd expect from a player who's kept rebounding from eight bouts of significant foot, elbow and shoulder surgery over eight injury-scarred years.

It makes the tale of Duckworth's long, painful journey to his first ATP Tour final a genuinely encouraging one.

After all, he reached his final in Kazakhstan at the 105th attempt to win a professional tour-level event, and that's a considerable reward for a stop-start career where his resilience and heart has constantly been tested, on occasion making him think he might have to quit.

Even his father Dr David Duckworth, a surgeon, had warned him before his last operation on his foot three years ago that it might not work and that he might not regain full fitness.

Yet sheer determination has led Duckworth to keep fighting, particularly after his most recent operation on his shoulder in March last year, which idol Pat Rafter, who'd had similar surgery, recommended him to undergo in order to try to end the constant discomfort.

That's why his Kazakh adventure seemed to make everything worthwhile for the big-hearted 'Ducks'.

After all, he'd made his mission statement clear enough en route to the final.

"If I've wanted to achieve something, I know I've had to work really hard," he shrugged.

"That's the only way you get anywhere in life."

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