Australia, 15 March 2024 | Jackson Mansell

Hard work and persistence has helped Chris O’Connell reach some incredible heights in his career.

After peaking at world No.53 in singles last year, the 29-year-old from Sydney is now targeting a top-50 breakthrough.

In our Train with the Pros series, O’Connell shares his most memorable practice sessions and offers advice on how to improve your game.

Do you have a favourite time of day to practise?

I would say around 11am. Generally we try to train when matches sort of start, but I prefer to do my training in the morning, so I have my afternoon free.

On average, how many hours do you spend on court training per week?

I actually don’t spend that many hours compared to a lot of guys, but over the years I’ve sort of increased it, so anywhere from two to three hours. I usually do it in one session, I don’t do two sessions in a day.

Do you have a favourite part of your game you like to work on?

Recently, probably volleying. I’ve sort of added it into my game a little bit, so I’m really enjoying working on that because I’m seeing the biggest improvement, as opposed to my groundstrokes which I’ve worked on all my life.

Do you have a least favourite part of your game to work on?

I find working on my serve is pretty boring, but it’s so important. It’s such a key component of your game. So probably serving, but every now and then I don’t mind just hitting serve after serve after serve.

Can you remember the first professional player you had an opportunity to practise with?

It would’ve been Sam Stosur when I was 14. I don’t remember too much from the sessions with her, but I just remember she was super professional.

Can you recall any training sessions you were particularly nervous for?

I practised with Lleyton Hewitt one of the preseasons five plus years ago. That was my most nervous practice.

Who are the players on tour that you most enjoy practising with?

I seem to hit with the same guys week in, week out. I hit with Alexander Zverev a lot, so I enjoy that. I hit with Aslan Karatsev a lot. But I do like mixing up who I practice with, whether it’s a guy that makes a lot of balls or a guy that has a big game, big serve so I can work on my returns. So I’m trying to mix it up constantly.

Are there any players on tour you’d love the opportunity to hit with?

You always want to practise with the big guys. I haven’t trained with Carlos Alcaraz yet. I have played him when he was really young. He still is young but yeah, I would like to practise with him.

If you could practise with any player from tennis history, who would it be?

One of my heroes was Gaston Gaudio, an Argentinian guy. I had an Argentinian coach when I was younger, so I did like watching a lot of the Argentinian players. I would have liked to have trained with him. I did actually enjoy watching Pablo Cuevas as well, a Uruguayan. He is still playing a little bit, but I haven’t got to practise with him yet. Those picks are a little bit odd, I guess.
I’d say Roger Federer as well. I loved his one-handed backhand. I’ve got a one-handed backhand, so I would have loved to have a backhand, cross-court duel with him.

What advice would you share with an aspiring player to get the most out of a training session?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised literally every ball you hit in practice is important. I used to just roll through sessions, I mean I was locked in, but not completely locked in at times. At this level, it’s all about the one-percenters. So, just utilising every minute of your practice session and trying to be locked in. Try to replicate match conditions, as hard as it’s only practice, but really just try and be locked in for how long you’re on court.

Finally, you have five minutes left in a training session and can do anything you want. What would it be and why?

I quite enjoy this slice-to-slice sort of game, where you’re slicing up and down the doubles alley and trying to land it in the doubles alley. I do play that game a bit with my coach Marinko Matosevic and Jordan Thompson, who I hit with quite a bit.

> READ MORE: From our “Train with the pros” series

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