James Duckworth has his eyes set on a big upset against his star countryman at Wimbledon. Image by AP PHOTO
  • tennis

Duckworth ready to attack the ‘Demon’ he helped mould

Ian Chadband June 30, 2024

James Duckworth loves Alex de Minaur and looks up to him as a role model for Australian tennis – but it won’t stop him trying to ride a bit of good fortune and some fine form to derail ‘Demon’s’ Wimbledon dream.

The resurgent 32-year-old Sydney stalwart Duckworth was strolling to the practice courts on Friday when he learned that, as an alternate in the main draw, he had been drafted in to replace injured Frenchman Corentin Moutet and take on the country’s No.1 player in Tuesday’s opener.

Now the resilient figure known to all his colleagues as ‘Ducks’ intends to take full advantage of his ‘lucky loser’ inclusion following his loss in Thursday’s final round of qualifying, with even de Minaur admitting on Saturday: “He’s dangerous.”

Duckworth promises to go on the attack against the player he’s learned to so admire since first helping the eager 15-year-old de Minaur on the Homebush practice courts a decade ago.

De Minaur
 Alex de Minaur admits his first-round opponent is “dangerous”. Image by AP PHOTO 

Asked if he fancied his chances against ninth-seeded de Minaur, the world No.78 smiled on Saturday: “I give myself a chance, yeah, for sure.

“I’ve been playing pretty well and grass is probably my best surface. I think I’m dangerous on this surface – and if I play well, I’m a chance.

“I love Demon. I just love the way he goes about it. He’s super humble guy, just works extremely hard and is a very good tennis player.

“His game has evolved a lot over the last couple of years. He’s worked really hard and I’m super pumped for him. I’d say all of us Aussies really look up to him and he’s a great role model for us, for sure.”

But after a career scarred by 10 operations, Duckworth, who has an even deeper appreciation of his ailments as the son of a Sydney surgeon, is determined to take advantage of the longest injury-free stretch he can recall.

He’s been in good form on the grass, reaching the quarter-final in Stuttgart including a notable defeat of the much-touted US leftie Ben Shelton.

“Just excited to be playing. It’s a great test to play against Alex. I’m just out to play my own game and I want to play aggressive. Take it to him.

“And I’m gonna have to play well. That’s the reality. If I don’t play well, I’m in a fair bit of trouble.

“Alex is top 10 in the world, and he’s there for a reason. I don’t know if grass or hard court is his favourite, but he’s very good on on both of those. So it’s going to be tough, but I’ll go there and give it a good crack.”

He smiles about his first memories of young de Minaur. “I think the first time I hit with him was February 2015 – I was about 105 or 110 in the world, and he was 15.

“He just said to me, ‘I’d love to practice with you as much as you want. As long as you’re here, just let me know when you want to hit and I’ll hit with you.’ And I was like, wow, this guy, he really wants it!

“And every session he turned out and just tried his arse off. And he was pretty skinny and light at that stage and didn’t hit a big ball and I was beating him in most points but there was no carry on, he was very mature. And I was super impressed.”

Over the years, he’s watched that skinny kid develop into Australia’s biggest men’s tennis hope, so what did he think of the prospect of ruining his chance at the first hurdle.

“Was the question, ‘do I think it’s funny?’ – not sure how to answer that,” smiled Duckworth.

“I guess at least there’ll be another Aussie in the second round!”