THIS was not weather for ducks. James Duckworth had spent almost 4½ hours on court during his first-round win over Ben Mitchell before stepping out to face Blaz Kavcic on Thursday morning, and it was almost dinner-time when his second-round match ended five hours later.
The crowd would have understood had a tired, blistered and cramping Duckworth lost the first match point he was confronted with, while serving at 4-5 in the fifth set. They would have kept blowing their duck whistles had he failed to save the second, third or fourth of them just two games later. Duckworth didn't merely want to hang around: in his most vulnerable moments the Australian went for big serves, went for big shots and tried to make his opponent wrench the match away from him rather than stick to what felt more safe.
It wasn't until the 18th game, as his cramping right quad reduced him to something of a waddle, that Duckworth simply couldn't come up with anything more. On Tuesday, he couldn't win unless he ended the tournament of Mitchell, one of his close friends. Here he showed pluck of a different sort, in the most uncomfortable of conditions, for a long, long time, against a player ranked 130 spots ahead of him.
Next week, Duckworth will turn 21. He is only getting started, but people will attach certain qualities to him now. He fights.
It was well above 30 degrees by the time the match started, around midday. The blessing for both players was that it moved quickly, early on. It took Duckworth just 37 minutes to win the first set 6-3 but this was not a sign of things to come. Instead it just got tighter, the players harder to split not just because they were dressed in almost identical outfits. Early, Duckworth had the easier time on his serve, almost getting to take a breather and then put his Slovenian opponent under pressure. As the match progressed, that swung around.
Kavcic broke early in the second set, and held on to take it 6-3. He broke for a 3-2 lead in the third and did the same thing, needing to show some grit of his own after Duckworth saved three set points in the ninth game, the Australian so annoyed at losing his chance to break back he flung his racquet from the baseline to the court, almost collecting the feet of a ball boy as it skidded underneath the net.
Duckworth started the fourth set like he wanted to make up the ground as soon as he possibly could: quick points, big serves, getting to the net when he could, making Kavcic think, and work, and persist. He did the same thing when the set reached a tie-breaker, winning the first three points and making the Slovenian chase him. Without too much angst though, Kavcic was able to twist the momentum.
He had Duckworth under pressure from the start of the fifth set, breaking him in the second game, and while Duckworth broke back immediately, in the first of his many comebacks, the Slovenian, serving first, was able to win some slightly easier points on serve, stay in front and make Duckworth keep trying to catch up until he was finally unable to come up with new ways to.