THE second tier of Australian men's tennis showed glimpses of promise but ultimately proved how much improvement was needed after two winnable matches turned into losses at the Sydney International on Monday.
Matthew Ebden and James Duckworth were both within a handful of points of progressing to the last 16 at Olympic Park but tightened during key moments to hand their more experienced opponents the spoils.
Ebden was up a set and a break before being run down by Spanish eighth seed Marcel Granollers 5-7, 7-5, 6-1, while Duckworth blew an early break in the deciding set against towering Uzbek Denis Istomin to succumb 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).
World No.105 Ebden, who was up two sets to love against highly rated Kei Nishikori of Japan at last year's Australian Open before going down in five, looked the goods when up 4-2 in the second set.
But the 25-year-old's game began to unravel after a botched smash when at deuce on his serve in the pivotal seventh game.
''Maybe they weren't so different,'' Ebden said of the losses to Granollers and Nishikori. ''The positive thing is I know I can beat those sorts of guys … it's just about sustaining the level 'til the match is mine. Whether it is experience, I don't know. I've been around a little while.
''I'll just get back on the court with Pete [McNamara, coach] and I'm sure he can help me with being a bit more relentless - putting the nail in, being a ferocious frontrunner rather than letting the guy back in a bit.''
Ebden said a time warning given by the umpire earlier in the match had him second-guessing how much time he had to serve, particularly as the clash dragged on.
Wildcard Duckworth also let slip a golden opportunity to register the biggest win of his fledgling career as world No.46 Istomin came home with a head of steam.
Istomin, who beat Lleyton Hewitt in the second round of the Brisbane International last week before going down to eventual champion Andy Murray, looked on the ropes at various stages in the final set.
But Duckworth, 20, couldn't consolidate his early lead, nor press through when he had other chances to snatch further breaks in the third set.