Comeback Kids James Duckworth, Kimberly Birrell Win Australian Open Wildcards - UBITENNIS
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Comeback Kids James Duckworth, Kimberly Birrell Win Australian Open Wildcards

Two players that have been blighted by injury in recent years have booked a spot in the main draw at next month’s grand slam.

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Former top 100 player James Duckworth has secured a place in next months Australian Open after winning the national play-off tournament in Melbourne.

 

The 26-year-old outlasted compatriot Luke Saville 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(2), in a closely fought match. Saville knocked out top seed Alex Bolt in the semi-finals of the tournament. Duckworth’s reward is a place in the main draw of the Melbourne major for the seventh time in his career and first since 2017.

“I thought today, probably until those last couple of games when I was pretty nervous, was probably the cleanest I’d hit the ball and the most comfortable and confident I’d felt on the court, which I was pleased about,” Duckworth said following his win.

Duckworth’s triumph comes after what has been a turbulent past two years for him. Since his last appearance at the Australian Open, he has had to undergo five surgeries and dropped outside the top 1000 earlier this year. Last year, he could only play in two tournaments due to injury. Within a 13-month period, he underwent three foot surgeries, as well as operations on his shoulder and elbow.

“There were definitely times over the last few years when I thought maybe I’d never play tennis again, let alone the Australian Open,” he reflected.
“It was tough sitting on the sidelines and going through so much rehab and spending so much time on the operating table as well. So to be able to get back is just a dream come true.
“I’ve obviously been through a lot over the last couple of years and to be able to play my home Grand Slam again – which in my opinion is the best tournament in the world, the support you get here is incredible – is just an unbelievable feeling.”

On the rise once again, Duckworth is currently ranked 244th in the world. This season he has achieved a win-loss record of 15-12. In September he won his first title since undergoing multiple surgeries at the ATP Cary Open. A Challenger tournament in America.

Looking ahead to the upcoming grand slam, Duckworth will be bidding to win his fourth main draw match at the event. He has previously reached the second round of the Australian Open in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

Birrell caps off dream week

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In the women’s tournament, world No.288 Kimberly Birrell clinched the wildcard without dropping a single set all week.

Birrell, who last played at the Australian Open in 2016, breezed past Astra Shama 6-4, 6-2. The 20-year-old also knocked out third seed Jaimee Fourlis and second seed Ellen Perez on route to the final.

“So many mixed emotions – I think it all kind of hit me in the end, because I knew she was going to put up a fight until the very last point until we shook hands,” Birrell said.
“So happy, and just so much joy, and maybe a little bit of relief too. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity and I’m so glad that I was able to take it.”

German-born Birrell has won two titles on the ITF Tour, including the $60,000 Darwin Open this year. She is yet to crack the top 200. Her most significant result on the WTA Tour occurred on the doubles tour. At the 2016 Hobart International she finished runner-up alongside Jarmila Wolfe.

Similar to Duckworth, Birrell has also endured her fair share of injury issues despite her young age. Shoulder surgery in 2016 sidelined her from action for 11 months before she made a steady return.

“It really helps having been through the whole experience before. I played juniors, I’ve been around the environment. It’s not gonna be anything new. And during that Australian Open (in 2016) I played on Hisense Arena, one of the biggest courts in the world. I’m definitely gonna draw on that experience, for sure.” She said.
“I’ve learned so much since then. It’s only been two years but it feels like kind of a lifetime ago because I’ve been through so much since then – coming off a surgery, and kind of almost starting from scratch.
“I feel like I’ve just played so much more tennis since then; my body is completely different to what it was back then. I have so much more faith in myself, and that I can back up match after match and compete against the top girls.”

The Australian Open will get underway on January 14th.

Grand Slam

Nick Kyrgios Backs Australian Open Ban On Unvaccinated Players But Opposes Mandatory Vaccinations

The world No.90 landed himself in some hot water after making some comments on the No Boundaries podcast.

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Tennis star Nick Kyrgios says recent comments made by him on a podcast were taken out of context after he was accused of calling for next year’s Australian Open to be cancelled.

 

The former top 20 player spoke about the upcoming event and other issues on the No Boundaries podcast which he is a co-founder of. During one part of the discussion, Kyrgios said that he doesn’t think that the Australian Open should go ahead due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The country has had one of the strictest rules in the world regarding the pandemic with many cities being placed into a lockdown for almost a year and heavy restrictions being placed on international travel.

I don’t think the Aus Open should go ahead, just for the people in Melbourne – you’ve got to send a message,’ Kyrgios said on the podcast.
‘How long did (Melbourne) do in lockdown? 275 days or something?’

However, the 26-year-old later clarified his comment and said his point was more about the people living in Melbourne and not that the tournament should be cancelled. Kyrgios reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open back in 2015 and has made eight consecutive appearances in the main draw. This year he reached the third round before losing to Dominic Thiem in five sets.

“To say that I’d want the Australian Open cancelled, I think that was the sentence that got taken out of context,” he said in a video on his Instagram account. “It’s more so for the people of Melbourne who have gone through hell and back. I think it’s been … nearly 300 days of lockdown and your freedom has been, you know, taken away from you.”

Next year’s Melbourne major is still yet to publicly confirm their entry requirements amid growing speculation that players will only be allowed to play in the tournament if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This is due to a health mandate being implemented in Victoria which requires all essential workers, including elite athletes, to be vaccinated. Premier Daniel Andrews has previously told journalists that he would not be making any exceptions to the rules for players.

Weighing in on the topic of vaccinations, Kyrgios said the idea of having a policy on Tour which requires all players to be vaccinated is ‘morally wrong.’ Novak Djokovic is among a group of players who have not revealed their vaccination status. Prompting speculation over if he will travel to Australia next January or not.

“(NBA player) Kyrie (Irving), Novak (Djokovic), these guys have given so much, sacrificed so much,” Kyrgios commented. “They’re global athletes who millions of people look up to and I just feel like it’s so morally wrong to force someone to get vaxxed. There’s other solutions around it.”

However, Kyrgios has also said that he thinks it is ‘morally wrong’ for unvaccinated players to be allowed in Melbourne.

I don’t think it’s morally right to accept players from overseas that aren’t vaccinated to come into our country.” He stated.

Although Tennis Australia is yet to confirm their policy, media sources are reporting on Tuesday that unvaccinated players will be banned from the tournament. According to ABC Australia, Victorian Sports minister Martin Pakula told reporters that unvaccinated players would be banned from the Australian Open along with unvaccinated fans and staff.

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Roger Federer Unlikely To Play Australian Open Next Year

One of Federer’s coaches has issued an update concerning his recovery from injury.

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Roger Federer Wimbledon 2021
Roger Federer (SUI) playing against Adrian Mannarino (FRA) in the first round of the Gentlemen's Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 2 Tuesday 29/06/2021. Credit: AELTC/Jed Leicester

It appears that Roger Federer’s return to professional tennis will not occur in Australia after one of his coaches described the chances of him playing in the first Grand Slam of 2022 as ‘very few.’

 

Ivan Ljubicic has issued an update on the 20-time Grand Slam champion who has not played since his quarter-final loss to Herbert Hurkacz at Wimbledon. Shortly after that defeat, Federer underwent a third operation of his knee following a consultation with his medical team. He has already undergone two minor surgeries on his knee during the first half of 2020, as well as a separate procedure back in 2016.

Speaking in Zurich during a sponsor event for Mercedes-Benz back in September Federer said ‘the worst is behind him’ but he is taking his recovery slowly. Speaking about his progress earlier this week, coach Ljubicic said the Swiss maestro is unable to recover ‘as quickly as he used to’ due to his age. Admitting that the prospect of Federer returning to action at Melbourne Park is unlikely.

“I think there are very few chances, he is still recovering and knowing him, he wants to be sure he can play to win the tournament and be at 100%,” Ljubicic told Stats Perform.
“So I think the Australian Open is not a real possibility right now. But he will go step by step because he is 40 years old now and he needs to be patient. He cannot recover as quickly as he used to.”

Federer has won six out of his 20 major titles at the Australian Open with the most recent occurring back in 2018. He also missed the tournament this year due to his knee. Prior to this, he had made 21 consecutive appearances at Maelbourne Park (2000-2020).

However, Ljubicic is optimistic that Federer will return to competition and retirement talk is currently not on the cards despite his age. According to the ATP, only six players older than Federer have an official ranking but none of those are currently ranked in the top 200. Although Feliciano Lopez is the same age as him but is a couple months younger.

We have spoken and I can guarantee he wants to return to playing tennis. When he decides to stop he will retire, but I don’t think it’s going to happen all of a sudden.” Ljubicic stated.

During his career, Federer has won 103 ATP titles and has earned more than $130M in prize money.

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Australian Open To Outline Plans Next Week As Victorian Premier Says No To Granting Exceptions

It is looking increasingly doubtful that unvaccinated players will be allowed to play in the Grand Slam.

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With just over two months until the start of the Australian Open there is still confusion over what the entry requirements will be for players who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

 

There is speculation that those who have not been jabbed against the virus may be banned from playing at the Grand Slam tournament which will begin on January 17th. This is due to a health mandate implemented in Victoria which requires all essential workers, including athletes, to have their vaccinations. However, no official announcement has been made despite the new season beginning in less than eight weeks time.

Craig Tiley, who is the head of Tennis Australia, was questioned if unvaccinated players will be allowed to play in Melbourne on Tuesday at a special media event marking the announcement of Dylan Alcott’s retirement. However, the tennis official refused to shed light on the current situation.

I just want this to be about Dylan today and then I’ll take any of those questions another time,” the Australian Associated Press quoted Tiley as saying.

It is understood that more information about the 2022 Australian Open will be announced next week at the ‘official launch’ of the event. However, this doesn’t mean that all details about the event will be disclosed.

On the same day as Tiley’s comment, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews reiterated his stance on the matter by stating he will not be applying for any exceptions to be made for tennis players. In a leaked letter issued by the WTA Players Council, one of the possibilities being discussed was allowing unvaccinated players to participate providing they go through a strict quarantine upon arrival in the country.

I’m not going to have people sitting in the grandstands having done the right thing, only to have millionaire players that ought be vaccinated running around the place being essentially at such higher risk of spreading this – getting it and giving it,” Andrews said.

Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, who contested the final of this year’s Australian Open, have refused to disclose details about their vaccination status. Meanwhile, others such as world No.9 doubles player Pierre-Hughes Herbert admits he is yet to be fully vaccinated.

“It’s a bit complex, because personally I’m not vaccinated. I don’t know if I will have time to do the two jabs and be vaccinated,” Herbert told reports in Paris on Sunday.
“It’s a bit difficult to tackle this subject right now. This situation in Australia is not very much open for discussion and open.”

Fellow French doubles player Nicolas Mahut said he received one vaccination shot three months after testing positive for COVID-19. Although this may not be enough to guarantee him entry into Australia.

“If I need a second jab after the Davis Cup, we don’t have a large window, so that’s it. The situation is not easy for me, as well,” he commented.

According to figures provided by both the ATP and WTA, more than 50% of players have been fully vaccinated.

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