Team dream: Max Purcell targets next step in Davis Cup
Rising from outside the top 200 to achieve his top-50 singles breakthrough, Max Purcell aims to add Australian Davis Cup team highs to his dream season.
Alongside the handy net game and deft athleticism that’s already helped him claim a Grand Slam doubles trophy, Max Purcell can proudly boast a ‘success-breeds-success’ mentality – as a spectacular rise in 2023 attests.
From qualifying to contest the Australian Open main draw at the start of the season, the Australian was soon celebrating the trio of ATP Challenger victories that led to his top-100 singles breakthrough.
Purcell built on that milestone with wins over Felix Auger-Aliassime, Casper Ruud and Stan Wawrinka – among others – throughout a stellar North American swing featuring quarterfinal appearances at ATP tournaments in Cincinnati and Winston Salem.
Ranked No.220 in singles at the start of the season, Purcell now sits at a career-high world No.43.
It validates a move to prioritise his singles game after seizing the Wimbledon 2022 men’s doubles title with countryman Matt Ebden. The 25-year-old told tennis.com.au that the career-defining decision was affirmed during his Davis Cup debut for Australia last year in Hamburg.
“I felt like I had too much left on the table for singles. Regardless if I was going to make the top 100 or not, I just wanted to kind of give it everything,” explained Purcell, who felt he’d made sufficient gains in strength and maturity at that point.
“I thought ‘you know, now’s my time to kind of see how I can go’, so I’m glad it’s all panned out.”
As he prepares alongside fellow Australians for this week’s Davis Cup Finals in Manchester, the 25-year-old is focused on transforming those gains into team breakthroughs – and whether that’s in singles or doubles, Purcell is simply proud to compete.
“I think I’ll be playing all the doubles, which I can’t wait for,” he told tennis.com.au of Australia’s impending assignments against Great Britain (from 1pm in Manchester/10pm AEST on Wednesday), France (Thursday) and Switzerland (Saturday).
“And depending on how the next few days training goes, or what the team wants, I’ll be ready for singles if they call me, but I’ll also be ready to sit on the bench and ride all the matches hard for the boys if they’re playing singles.”
It points to the passion that the Sydney-born Purcell holds for team competitions, which extends to his other sporting love of cricket. “When I do get any team stuff in tennis, I love it. I’m all for it,” he said.
A passion for Davis Cup especially was first formed while growing up in Sydney, where a seven-year-old Purcell watched Australia take on Argentina in the 2005 quarterfinals. He was also in the stands at Royal Sydney Golf Club in 2011 when Australia faced Switzerland in a World Group play-off.
“When you hear all the stories about when you get through a big tie, just the celebration and stuff – yeah, it’s everything,” he said.
Australian Davis Cup Captain Lleyton Hewitt – who, unsurprisingly, is listed as Purcell’s childhood hero – will be delighted with the mentality the Sydneysider brings to his tight-knit team.
Asked to name a high point in a season that’s delivered 11 match wins over higher-ranked opponents, Purcell pointed instead pointed to a loss. Unawed as he faced Carlos Alcaraz in the Cincinnati quarterfinals, he pushed the then-No.1 to three tight sets.
“The loss against Carlos was the one that stood out the most,” he reflected. “The fact that I went out there and serve-volleyed against the best in the world and actually almost dug it out… it gave me a lot of belief that I can play with these guys and I can change it up and it rattles them.”
Purcell takes a similar fighting spirit into the Davis Cup setting and far from intimidated by the prospect of a parochial home crowd when Australia faces Great Britain, he passionately embraces the pressure.
“Oh yeah, it fuels me,” he said. “I can’t wait to hear a few sledges from the crowd. Hopefully I can give it back to them a bit.”
He’ll face that challenge feeling physically and mentally strong, despite the 70 singles matches he’s contested since the start of the season.
“I’m fine,” said Purcell. “I try and hire a physio most weeks privately, as well as having my coach in there. I think it’s a huge part of staying on tour and playing so many matches is keeping the body right.
“I try and do all the right things physically and otherwise mentally I’m fine. I’m loving the fact that I’m getting to play tour events. It’s like a dream come true, so as far as the mental side goes, I couldn’t be more stoked.”
Except perhaps, if he adds to his dream season, with further Davis Cup milestones, after featuring in Australia’s runner-up finish to Canada last year.
“If we can go one further than last year, it will be the best thing ever,” enthused Purcell, who covets a long career representing Australia.
“These are always the best weeks,” he added. “I’m hopefully a part of the team for time to come.”