Melbourne Park, 9 December 2011 | Matthew Trollope

Fifth seed James Duckworth has progressed to the semifinals of the 2012 Australian Open Wildcard Play-off after coming through an entertaining match against third seed Ben Mitchell.

Despite the straight-sets scoreline the match was a tight affair, improving in quality as the wind died down and concluding only after Duckworth snared a service break late in the second set. He went on to win 6-3 7-5 and admitted that it was tough to play against a good friend.

“Benny is one of my best mates, we stay together, we hang out a lot … but we were both able to put that aside and go out there and compete today, and I was happy to get the win,” he said.

“I think I served quite well. It was windy today so I was able to use my slice and a bit of variety, which helped me I think in these tough conditions.”

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Duckworth and Mitchell share the same coach – Brent Larkham of the Australian Institute of Sport – and are both highly touted Australian tennis prospects thanks to their impressive 2011 seasons. Playing on the Futures circuit, Mitchell jumped from world No.611 in January to his current mark of No.214, while Duckworth leapt from No.742 to No.274 in the same period.

Yet although they have the same coach and are the same age, the pair had not faced off for two years prior to this match, due to Duckworth choosing to hone his game on clay while Mitchell opted for more hardcourt events.

“I thought it was going to be a really tough match … it could have gone either way … luckily I was able to win the important points,” Duckworth reflected.

“Each match I’m getting a little bit better [with adjusting to hard courts]. I guess on hard court I get a little more purchase on my first serve … so that’s helped me a lot to hold my serve, [and] with holding serve it just puts [more] pressure on the opponent to hold theirs.”

Duckworth’s serve was definitely the more potent delivery throughout the match, and his ability to better adapt to the hot blustery conditions proved decisive in the opening set.

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The sixth seed applied plenty of topspin to his groundstrokes, which gave him greater margin for error, while Mitchell’s flatter groundstrokes frequently flew long over the baseline. Duckworth broke to love in the sixth game and maintained his advantage to clinch the opening set.

Both players routinely held serve for much of the second set, but there were some torrid games that threatened to buck that trend.

Mitchell faced a total of five break points in the third game, yet boldly hit his way out of trouble on the first three and benefitted from a pair of Duckworth errors on the next two to secure a confidence-boosting service hold.

The standard of play went up a notch with Mitchell serving in the 11th game with scores locked at 5-5. Both players pulled off some spectacular winners in another see-sawing game, but this time, Duckworth did not miss his opportunity.

Duckworth smacked a forcing crosscourt forehand that drew the error from the No.3 seed’s racquet, handing him a valuable break. Just minutes later, he brought up match point with a delightfully angled forehand that Mitchell could not control.

Duckworth then set up a semifinal meeting with top seed Greg Jones after Mitchell erred long on his backhand.

He said he last played Jones as a 10-year-old and remembers losing 6-0 6-2. “Hopefully I can get more than two games this time,” he laughed.

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