Purcell thriving with “Australian-style” tennis
With Max Purcell leveraging his doubles success into a top-50 singles ranking, Todd Woodbridge believes the rising Aussie star has the potential to go deep at a major tournament.
For the first time in almost six years, Max Purcell’s singles ranking has eclipsed his doubles ranking.
But unlike in November 2017, when both figures were in the high 200s, Purcell now finds himself in the top 50 of each discipline.
Purcell arrives at the US Open at a career-high singles ranking of world No.43, and one of the form players in the men’s game. In the past three weeks he has won 11 of 14 singles matches and practically halved his ranking, beating big names like Casper Ruud, Stan Wawrinka and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Australian great Todd Woodbridge has keenly observed Purcell’s progress and feels his doubles success – the zenith of which came with his Wimbledon victory in 2022 – has profoundly and positively impacted his singles game.
“It really started when he made the Australian Open 2020 final with Luke Saville,” said Woodbridge, who also identified Purcell’s successful Davis Cup debut last year as another important stepping stone.
“(But) it was that winning Wimbledon moment with Matt Ebden when I think Max must have felt: ‘You know what? I belong here. I’m an actual fully-fledged tennis player. I’m not going to be pocketed as a doubles-only specialist.’
“I think it has shown brilliantly how important playing every aspect of our game is. He’s playing an Australian style of tennis again, which I thoroughly have loved watching.”
This Australian style, Woodbridge notes, shines through when Purcell plays the deuce court in doubles; excellent shot selection and creativity complement his ability to see, and exploit, spaces in the court.
“He’s almost two shots in front, playing a shot to set up the next shot,” Woodbridge explained. “It is a lot like how Mark Woodforde and I were taught to play doubles as Australians, and how Ash Barty played doubles, and then went into singles.”
Purcell began specifically targeting singles in late 2022 when he contested a series of ATP Challenger events in Asia. But he began to truly make inroads in early 2023, during a swing of ATP Challengers in India.
In February and March, he scooped consecutive titles in Chennai, Bengaluru and Pune, winning 15 straight matches. It helped him make his top-100 debut, at No.95, just three weeks after being ranked 203rd.
He hasn’t looked back.
“Going off to India, in some of the most difficult tennis climates, and winning tournaments; if there’s ever a place you can cop out and say ‘I’ve had enough’, it’d be at those Challengers. It is gutsing it out… that, for me, was most impressive,” Woodbridge said.
“It’s the first time in a long time, on the men’s side, we’ve seen someone utilise doubles to advance themselves to singles. I think he deserves a massive tip of the hat for deciding this year to give up the opportunity of dollars in the bank (via doubles) to get the singles ranking in place.
“He’s shown the confidence he has in his own ability. This confidence didn’t always come out in a positive way, and I think he has learned how to channel that and get the results required.
“He’s a really good example of recognising that variety is still key. Sometimes that takes a little longer to develop.”
That variety has been unwinding opponents throughout 2023.
Purcell has won 50 singles matches across all tournament levels, overcoming the effects of a mid-year ankle injury to hit his stride in North America.
He qualified for the main draw in Toronto, and again at Cincinnati, where he beat Ruud and Wawrinka to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal. There, he took a set off world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz. Then came another ATP quarterfinal last week in Winston-Salem.
He enters his US Open first-round match, against fellow Aussie Christopher O’Connell, brimming with confidence, telling Stan Sport one of his goals was to be seeded for Australian Open 2024.
He could well be, should he attain the heights Woodbridge believes he can.
“He’s becoming capable of creating an upset in the majors, and in future, a Grand Slam quarterfinal is definitely achievable,” Woodbridge said.
“I think the US Open is very much Max Purcell. It’s edgy, it can be temperamental. Conditions are fast. Max will feed off the crowd, in the way they deliver their energy.
“It’s sort of all aligned for him to have a good run at the tournament.”