New York, USA, 2 September 2022 | Matt Trollope

Despite a four-set loss to Dan Evans in the second round of the US Open, James Duckworth could finally see glimpses of his best form returning.

The Australian, who peaked inside the top 50 late last year before a hip procedure – his ninth surgery – at the start of 2022 stalled his momentum, said he felt increasingly confident in his physical conditioning and level of tennis.

“I was really happy with how my body was. I’m feeling way better than I was even a month ago, so moving pretty well,” he said following his 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-4 loss to Evans.

“(My) tennis is slowly getting there. I feel like I’m getting better every week, nearly, which is positive. Still got a little bit to go, but there’s been some good stuff.

“I’m still just not quite as confident, and as sharp, execution just isn’t quite where it was at the end of last year. But not too far off.”

This was Duckworth’s seventh appearance at the US Open, but just his second time in the second round.

The last time was six years ago, in 2016, the same year Evans held match point against Stan Wawrinka in the third round yet eventually fell in five, before Wawrinka went on to win the whole tournament.

There was no doubting the Brit’s prowess on New York’s quick hard courts, and he entered this match carrying the confidence of his highest-ever Grand Slam seeding (No.20) and a recent trip to the Montreal Masters semifinals.

While he lacked the same all-out aggression displayed by Duckworth, he played a tidier match.

He landed more first serves, won more points behind them, got far more returns in play, created many more break-point chances, and committed significantly less unforced errors.

It was a match dynamic that served him well until late in the third set, at which point Duckworth suddenly earned his first break point of the match, and converted, against the tide.

Now serving for the set, Duckworth dutifully did so to send the match to a fourth, where he went ahead 3-1.

It looked as if the world No.83 could be headed for one of the biggest wins of his 12-year professional career; 23rd-ranked Evans would have been the fifth-highest ranked player Duckworth had ever defeated, behind a trio of top-20 wins he scored in a breakout 2021 season.

Yet he had never defeated such a highly-ranked player at a major tournament; he was 0-11 against top-50 opposition entering this match.

That figure would go on to become 0-12, after Evans worked his way back into the match.

The Brit broke Duckworth in the sixth game by forcing a volley error, levelling scores at 3-3.

And with Duckworth serving to stay in the match at 4-5, 30-30, Evans unfurled back-to-back passing shot winners – one forehand, one backhand – to clinch a four-set triumph.

Evidence of Duckworth’s injury- and inactivity-induced rust was in his transition game and first volley, which he felt still had room to improve.

“I think to beat top-20, top-30 guys consistently, I think that’s what I need to continue to get better at,” he assessed. “I had a few transition balls where I just didn’t quite hit my spot, didn’t quite cover the right spots when I came forward.

“And I guess just being able to sustain a level for a longer period of time, and not taking two sets (like today) to get into it. The other day (coming from behind in his first-round victory over Chris O’Connell) it was one set.

“I’m hopeful (my best tennis is still ahead of me). I thought I had some really good stuff to sort of build on from last year; I played a really good last four months of the year.

“But I’d really like to string together a good 10-month season, that’s the goal.”

Aussies in action – US Open

Men’s singles, second round
[14] Diego Schwartzman (ARG) d Alexei Popyrin (AUS) 7-6(3) 7-5 7-6(6)
[20] Dan Evans (GBR) d James Duckworth (AUS) 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-4
[22] Frances Tiafoe (USA) d Jason Kubler (AUS) 7-6(3) 7-5 7-6(2)

> READ: Kokkinakis and Kyrgios among Aussie winners in doubles

Men’s singles, third round
[18] Alex de Minaur (AUS) v [12] Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP)
[23] Nick Kyrgios (AUS) v [WC] J.J. Wolf (USA)

> VIEW: US Open 2022 men’s singles draw

Women’s singles, third round
Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) v Serena Williams (USA)

> VIEW: US Open 2022 women’s singles draw

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