The new James Duckworth will introduce himself to Australian tennis this weekend.
And the country’s No.1 Alex de Minaur will know exactly how he’s tracking, up against the world’s No.2 and No.7 in a stiff ATP Cup task.
Duckworth has shot from 105 to 49 in the world rankings this year, storming up the charts to become Australia’s second-highest ranked man.
Beating fellow top-100 talents Alexei Popyrin, John Millman, Jordan Thompson and Nick Kyrgios to a spot in Lleyton Hewitt’s team, it’s the 29-year-old’s moment in the spotlight after years blighted by injuries and near misses.
“No, I didn’t think I’d be here (a year ago) but I’ve had a pretty good year,” Duckworth said of his ATP Cup berth.
“I went home in the middle of the year after Miami, had a big training block with coach Wayne Arthurs, got really clear on my game style and it took a couple of months to gain some confidence, playing aggressively and the results continued to improve.”
Duckworth dominated at Challenger level then took that form to the top, reaching his maiden ATP final and losing a tight Paris Masters quarter-final to world No.9 Hubert Hurkacz.
“He’s always had setbacks throughout his carer, to keep bouncing back and responding, is something we’re all extremely proud of,” ATP Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt said.
“He does absolutely everything right and it’s great he’s getting the success now … now it’s just about cementing that spot in the top 50.”
Australia will begin their campaign against Italy, before clashes with Russia and France, who have replaced Austria.
Italy boast world No.7 Matteo Berrettini and 20-year-old world No.10 Jannik Sinner, while Lorenzo Sonego (No.27) and Fabio Fognini (No.37) round out what Hewitt views as the deepest squad in the event.
Russia are headed by US Open champion Daniil Medvedev while Ugo Humbert sits one place lower than de Minaur at No.35 in the world.
“This is the beauty of the ATP Cup … I’ve experienced it before and it’s a great way to see where I’m at and a great challenge,” de Minaur said.
“Hopefully some packed-out crowds, just itching to get back out and compete.
“It’s just a big opportunity for me, to test myself against these top guys.”
Berrettini is wary of de Minaur, carrying memories of when the plucky speedster pushed Rafael Nadal to “crazy” limits in the event two years ago.
“This atmosphere brings him to play his best tennis, so it’s going to be very tough match,” he said.
“But I like this kind of thing; like stadiums packed and people are cheering for you or against you. I’m really looking forward to that match.”