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Duckworth prevails in battle of close mates

Bragging rghts ... James Duckworth outlasted friend Benjamin Mitchell in a five set epic.

Bragging rghts ... James Duckworth outlasted friend Benjamin Mitchell in a five set epic. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

AT 34 seconds past 5.30pm on Tuesday, an Australian not named Samantha Stosur won a match at this year’s Australian Open.

It was inevitable, for the contest was between the surgeon’s son from Sydney and the soapie star’s little brother from the Gold Coast. Someone would fail to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this time.

Mercifully, too, for Monday’s national scorecard read 1-8, with only Stosur in the happy column at the Happy Slam, and Lleyton Hewitt the most prominent among the long and sad list of losers whose best result was the record $27,600 first-round prizemoney collect.

Indeed, by the time James Duckworth and Ben Mitchell had finished their lengthy and sometimes laborious duel, the exits of John-Patrick Smith and Luke Saville had further deflated the tally to 1-10. Marinko Matosevic would follow, beaten 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 by 12th seed Marin Cilic, to whom he had lost in five sets at last year’s US Open after winning the first two.

But the result was the same in the rematch, and Matosevic’s grand slam duck quacks on. ‘‘Same stuff again like last year. Same shit summer,’’ he said, with typical candour. ‘‘I feel like I played OK the whole summer and I haven’t got one set to show for it.’’

There was quacking, too, on showcourt two, where Duckworth prevailed in five sets. There was no need for the Duckworth-Lewis method to split the two 183-centimetre 20-year-olds, although there was little else that did. The longest match of the tournament so far lasted four hours, 26minutes, and was decided 6-4, 7-6 (10-8), 4-6, 5-7, 8-6.

Epic battle ... Australia's Benjamin Mitchell went down to James Duckworth.

Epic battle ... Australia's Benjamin Mitchell went down to James Duckworth. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

It pitted close friends, practice partners and regular roommates, both wildcards and members of the AIS  program overseen by Brent Larkham, against each other.  When Mitchell won the wildcard play-off before a far smaller crowd in December, he lent some clothes to his unsponsored opponent and pal, Matt Reid.

Duckworth had his own gear, but also what Mitchell craved more than anything –  a place in the second round of the year’s first grand slam.

At stake: $45,500, at least, even if Duckworth fails to claim a winnable second-round match against unseeded Slovakian Blaz Kavcic. Plus valuable rankings points.

Both still have much to work on, for the match was richer in drama and tension than in quality, it must be said. Mitchell showed some signs of cramp while serving to stay in the match late in the fourth set, but recovered to play some of his best tennis of the match immediately thereafter. It came down to a fifth, in which Mitchell was threatened in the second game and broken in the fourth, just after their common friend and neutral observer Saville had left the interview room.

‘‘It’s a hard one. We’re all really good friends and it’s tough to see that,’’ said Saville, after a four-set loss to Go Soeda. ‘‘There’ll be one happy guy tonight in our room.

‘‘I’m staying with Ducks, and Mitch is just below but we all go to dinner, and there’ll be one disappointed guy tonight.’’

That would be Mitchell.  ‘‘I gave it my all,’’ he said.   ‘‘It is pretty tough when it comes down to a few points. But I fought to the end, which is something I can be proud of.’’

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