Melbourne, Australia, 8 January 2023 | Matt Trollope

When caught up with Omar Jasika at the Australian Tennis Awards in December, he had recently completed a dream season with an Australian Pro Tour title in Traralgon.

It was his fifth ITF tournament victory of 2022, a year in which he re-established himself after a lengthy absence, and reminded tennis observers of his talents.

Brimming with confidence, the 25-year-old said he was ready to take his career to the next level.

“I’ve set myself the goal that I want to be top 100 (in 2023), and I think it’s very possible,” said Jasika, who reached eight finals in 2022.

“I played a lot of players this year that have been inside 100 and I’ve beaten a few of them, and it’s given me hope as well.”

Jasika was a US Open junior champion in 2014, and began to hit his professional stride a few years later, competing at Australian Open 2017 as the winner of the AO wildcard play-off and winning his first career ATP Challenger title in Burnie shortly after that. He peaked at world No.239 that April.

But he was derailed by a two-year ban for a positive cocaine test in 2018, and as he prepared to come back in early 2020, he faced another obstacle.

“My first tournament back was a Futures tournament in Geelong, and that tournament got cancelled due to COVID. That’s when COVID started,” he recalled.

“I couldn’t believe that that was my first tournament back, and COVID, this thing I’ve never heard of, it’s come around and it’s cancelled a tournament and that’s unheard of.

“That was crazy. So I lost hope again.”

It would ultimately be four years between competitive outings for the left-hander.

In that time, he did not touch a racquet for two years, and took up a job in a factory. When he did resume, he was simply hitting once a week with a friend, not training seriously.

But the lure of elite competition proved strong.

He increased his training, built confidence and match-fitness by entering Australian Money Tournaments, and made his professional-level return in February 2022 at an ITF Futures event in Canberra.

Unranked, he started in the qualifying rounds, and immediately began winning.

“I just really missed competing. And I thought I’d just tell myself, just go out there, enjoy, and just give it one more shot,” he explained.

“Honestly I was just happy to get back out there and start competing again. I was a little bit nervous, obviously, coming back, because I haven’t seen everyone in about four or five years, and everyone’s been doing well. So I’ve just been seeing these people on TV.”

In just his fourth event, Jasika won an Australian Pro Tour tournament in Bendigo – his first professional title in more than five years. A month later, he won a second in Thailand.

Two more ITF Futures titles followed in Greece, then a final at the Nonthaburi ATP Challenger in Thailand, before he closed his year with victory in Traralgon.

He set a new career-high ranking of No.228 and achieved direct entry into the Australian Open 2023 qualifying draw.

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“For me to do that in one year, even less than a year, because I started in February, is an unbelievable experience for me,” said Jasika, who won 70 of the 93 matches he played in 2022.

“I think that it motivated me a lot, to start doing well again. And I was just driven.”

Also helping Jasika on his journey back toward the top of the game is greater maturity.

So too is added experience; the Victorian is still only in his mid-20s, in a sport where it is becoming more common for players to attain success later, and sustain it longer.

“(I’m) a lot smarter and more mature and just a better person,” he said.

“I’m 25 years old now and I think you don’t really know yourself until you’re about 25 years old. I think I was a little bit young and stupid … As long as you learn from your mistakes you can help the younger generation. That’s the goal for me.

“I think I read the game better. I think I’m a lot match fitter, for sure. Before and after matches I do the right things, just the small things that matter to me now, that I wasn’t doing as much when I was younger. Just recovery things, stretching, (not) having late nights.

“Just doing the small things makes such a difference.”

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