Thompson and O’Connell thrive through mutual support at Wimbledon
Aussie mates Jordan Thompson and Chris O'Connell share history as juniors, accommodation at Wimbledon - and parallel ambitions in their 2023 campaigns.
As eight Australian men take their place in the main draw at Wimbledon, the spirit of camaraderie is strong.
“Aussies stick to other Aussies,” said Jordan Thompson who is happy to share accommodation with Chris O’Connell this year.
The careers of the close mates and fellow Sydneysiders have long been entwined.
Both aged 29, they competed often as juniors.
“The first time we ever played each other was when we were eight, so we’ve known each other for a really long time,” O’Connell said.
“He got into the top 100 earlier than me, so it’s pretty cool that I’m now in the top 100 and playing these tournaments. It’s a good feeling.”
So too is the broader camaraderie among the Australian men’s contingent, which alongside nine top-100 players, includes James Duckworth and Rinky Hijikata on the cusp of the elite group.
Both Thompson and O’Connell appreciate the success-breeds-success effect.
“We are all pushing each other forward,” said Thompson. “I mean, everyone doing well pushes everyone else.”
Asked if those nine men created a rivalry among the Australians, O’Connell had a positive take.
“It’s like a good sort of rivalry … if you want to call it that,” he said.
“But when one Aussie has a good result, you’re like ‘I can do that’ and then I have a good result and someone else has a good result.
“It’s just been happening all year. I guess it’s a good thing that there’s so many Aussies in the top 100.”
As they prepared for their respective main-draw campaigns at Wimbledon, both Sydneysiders had created a strong platform for success.
While Thompson’s 2023 grass-court season features nine match wins – including a second appearance in ATP final at ‘s-Hertogenbosch – O’Connell was a quarterfinalist in Stuttgart and is sitting at a peak world No.70 ranking.
It fuels his ambitions in a second main-draw Wimbledon campaign. “When I broke the top 100, I was in the 90s (and) I wanted to get into the 80s. And then when I was in the 80s, I’m like ‘Okay, I can get into the 70s now’. Now I’m 70 on the dot and now I want to get into the 60s.
“You’re constantly wanting to improve but obviously a goal would be top 50 for sure.”
Thompson will be aiming for a successful start against world No.51 American Brandon Nakashima, while O’Connell faces Serbian qualifier Hamad Medjedovic.
“(Medjedovic) must be pretty decent because he’s qualified. It’s tough to do that at any Grand Slam, but on the grass as well,” said O’Connell, who was also a qualifier at Wimbledon 2021, when he pushed Gael Monfils to five sets.
“He qualified pretty convincingly, so he’s going to be free-swinging, like I felt I was a couple of years ago playing Monfils first round.”
Should he progress over Nakashima, Thompson faces a likely second-round contest with seven-time champion Novak Djokovic. While it’s a daunting possibility, the typically laid-back Australian has a positive approach.
“I mean, as stupid as it sounds. You got to believe that you can win,” Thompson reasoned. “If you’re going on the court and you think you’re going to lose, there’s no point going out.”
If extra support is required, the pair can lean on each other, as well as their shared happy memories of competing on grass.
O’Connell recalled competing at Australian national events in Mildura. “Me and Jordan would actually go together, our dads would take us there. Have a little trip to Mildura,” he said.
As they reflect on those memories, the two Sydneysiders are also proudly supporting each other.
“He’s having his best season. He’s won a lot of matches and beaten some great players,” said Thompson of O’Connell. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be looking out for him.”
And a good-natured O’Connell is equally aware – and experienced – of the dangers that his mate presents.
“I think I won the very first match (as an eight-year-old) but then he’s had my number ever since!” he laughed.