Melbourne, 11 January 2012 | David Packman

Luczak keeps Aussie hopes alive

Intermittent rain delayed play on the opening day of qualifying at Australian Open 2012 with matches eventually getting under way in extremely gusty conditions in the early afternoon.

A  multitude of Australian players were due on court including old hands Chris Guccione and Peter Luczak as well as the young brigade such as reigning junior Wimbledon champ Luke Saville, Andrew Harris and 16- year-old Nick Kyrgios.

However, it was Luczak and Carsten Ball who proved the shining light for Australia today.

The Melburnian, currently ranked 280, recently declared his intentions to retire after a farewell appearance at this year’s Open. But he showed it wasn’t all over just yet, working tirelessly in the difficult conditions to record a straight sets victory, 6-3 7-6, over German Daniel Meffert. Luczak looked the steadier player throughout the match, his looping baseline game giving him a distinct advantage.

After the match, flanked courtside by his two young children, Luczak was clearly pleased to notch up a win in his final tournament.

“My singles career is not quite over yet,” he said. “I’ve still got at least another match.”

Luczak said he was “really relaxed” on court today and ahead of the tournament revealed he was just hoping to win a round.

“I’ve done that now, (so) if I qualify, that’s a bonus as well,” he said.

He is also playing doubles at this year’s Open with good mate Lleyton Hewitt.

On the comeback trail from an injury-marred 2011, big-serving lefty Carsten Ball made the most of his wildcard into qualifying to upset Kazakhstan’s Yuri Schukin, 4-6 6-3 7-5.

Local interest also rested with John-Patrick Smith, a recent graduate from the University of Tennessee whose current world ranking of 437 belies his talent. Smith has been one of the most successful college tennis players and just the second player in the history of the sport to earn All-American honours in singles and doubles in all four years of his career. He was also named SEC Athlete of the Year in 2011.

Today however, Smith fell in three tough sets to Farrukh Dustov, of Uzbekistan, ranked 262 in the world. As in all matches today, the wind was the predominant factor and Dustov eventually outlasted the Aussie, his more powerful game proving the difference in a 6-7(5) 6-4 6-3 victory.

In another marquee qualifying encounter, perennial favourite Chris Guccione faced 2003 Australian Open finalist Rainer Schuettler. The 35 year-old German journeyman has enjoyed mixed success since then and is currently ranked 131, while Guccione is returning from injury and, at 26 years old, desperately needs to get some wins on the board and start the year well.

The match went to the wire as the pair fought their way to two consecutive tiebreakers. Schuettler, however, just seemed to have control of the points when it mattered most and took the match, 7-6 (5) 7-6 (4).

In other matches, another Australian US college graduate, Michael Look, found himself facing Spain’s Roberto Bautista-Agut, currently ranked 164 places higher than him at 175. Despite being up a break in the second set with game points to go further ahead, Look eventually lost the match in straight sets 6-4 6-4.

Queenslander John Millman, who recently qualified for the main draw in Brisbane, took it right up to Canadian ninth seed Vasek Pospisil, winning the first set and forcing a tiebreaker in the second. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to go on with the job and the Canadian took the honours 3-6 7-6 (5) 6-2.

Meanwhile, Maverick Banes was bundled out in straight sets by Belgium’s Yannick Mertens,  7-5 6-3.