New York, USA, 31 August 2022 | Matt Trollope

James Duckworth beat friend and fellow Australian Chris O’Connell to reach the second round at the US Open for just the second time in his career – and first time since 2016.

Just over 12 hours after Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis concluded their first-round match, Duckworth and O’Connell went head-to-head in another all-Aussie affair on a hot and humid day at Flushing Meadows.

While O’Connell began more strongly, it was Duckworth who hurtled down the home straight hardest, wresting control deep in the second set to flip the match in his favour.

The 30-year-old’s 4-6 7-6(0) 6-2 6-3 triumph sets up a second-round meeting with 20th seed Dan Evans of Great Britain, a player having an impressive season and who recently reached the Montreal Masters semifinals.

“My fiancée texted me after the match, saying: ‘well done, you’ve paid for our wedding now’,” laughed Duckworth, who will be married at the end of 2023.

“(The prize money is) a nice bonus, but … I play the game probably for two things. I play to win; I love competing and I love winning.

“And I also really enjoy the aspect of trying to get better, trying to just improve my game constantly. (Coach) Wayne (Arthurs) and I are constantly going back and forth about different things we can get better, little one-percenters. That gives me a lot of enjoyment, as well, just improving.

“It’ll be a tough battle (in round two). Looking forward to the challenge. Evo’s a great player, he’s been really consistent the last three or four years.”

While Evans is soaring, it’s been a less memorable season for Duckworth, but not of his own doing; following the Australian summer the injury-plagued Aussie was forced to undergo another bout of surgery, this time on his hip.

> READ: Duckworth on surgeries – “You appreciated the good times more”

At that time he was ranked inside the top 50, but was sidelined for four months and is now outside the top 80.

Duckworth arrived at Flushing Meadows with a 9-16 record in 2022 and having lost four of his past six matches.

But he scored opening-round wins at ATP events in Atlanta and Winston-Salem, the latter coming over Kokkinakis.

He told prior to the tournament that the Kokkinakis victory was his best performance since his hip procedure.

O’Connell’s form, conversely, was good coming into New York; he had won eight of 12 hard-court matches, including qualifying for Winston-Salem and holding four match points against eventual champion Adrian Mannarino in the first round.

He continued that into his clash with Duckworth, breaking serve in the very first game and carrying that advantage through until the end of the set.

O’Connell found himself in a beautiful groove on serve; deep in the second set he was winning more than 90 per cent of first-serve points.

Although frustrated that he could not sink his teeth into the match, Duckworth remained patient enough to send the second set to a tiebreak.

And once there, he completely dominated it, winning all seven points and closing it out with a lunging forehand return winner.

This completely turned the match on its head; when the third set commenced, Duckworth was in control.

He broke O’Connell – who appeared to be increasingly struggling in the heat – twice en route to a 5-1 lead and claimed the third set after just 34 minutes.

Duckworth continued to attack O’Connell’s weaker backhand wing and was rewarded with a break in the seventh game of the fourth set.

He did not lose another game.

“There were a few nerves at the start, but once the match gets going, you put all that aside and you just try and compete as hard as you can,” said Duckworth, who was facing O’Connell for the first time in more than seven years.

“And that’s what I was able to do, after that first game, which was a shocker (laughter).”

Aussies in action – US Open

Men’s singles, first round
James Duckworth (AUS) d Chris O’Connell (AUS) 4-6 7-6(0) 6-2 6-3
Alexei Popyrin (AUS) d Tseng Chun-hsin (TPE) 6-3 7-6(5) 7-6(3)
[2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) d [WC] Rinky Hijikata (AUS) 4-6 6-2 6-3 6-3

Women’s singles, first round
[Q] Yuan Yue (CHN) d [WC] Jaimee Fourlis (AUS) 6-3 6-2

Men’s singles, first round

Jason Kubler (AUS) v Mikael Ymer (SWE)

Men’s singles, second round
[18] Alex de Minaur (AUS) v Cristian Garin (CHI)
[23] Nick Kyrgios (AUS) v Benjamin Bonzi (FRA)
Jordan Thompson (AUS) v [Q] Daniel Elahi Galan (COL)
James Duckworth (AUS) v [20] Dan Evans (GBR)
Alexei Popyrin (AUS) v TBC

> VIEW: US Open 2022 men’s singles draw

Women’s singles, second round
Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) v Evgeniya Rodina

> VIEW: US Open 2022 women’s singles draw

> READ: US Open 2022 doubles draws revealed

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