Chris O’Connell has negotiated a double dose of quarantine to lead the Australian male charge in Melbourne’s Australian Open lead-up events.
The Sydney talent was stuck in last year’s northern beaches lockdown before enduring more restrictions when allowed into Victoria ahead of this week’s Great Ocean Road Open.
It took a set to dust off any cobwebs in Monday’s first round, but the world No.121 held his nerve to beat Germany’s Dominik Koepfer 5-7 6-4 6-1 and set up a second-round meeting with world No.45 Alexander Bublik.
O’Connell stormed up the rankings in 2019, winning more matches than anyone on tour, before notching his maiden major tournament win at last year’s US Open.
He was stopped by then-third seed Daniil Medvedev in the second round but showed he was ready to make noise again after earning a wildcard into the Australian Open from February 8.
“It hasn’t been the ideal preparation, but regardless I’ve still had a pre-season even though it’s been a bit all over the place,” he said.
“It was super fun to be back out there on court.
“I had to stay calm, back myself and I knew things would turn eventually my way and that’s what happened.”
O’Connell has a legitimate eye on a top 100 spot that would earn him automatic entry into the world’s grand slams.
But he has company in good mate Aleksandar Vukic, who along with Jason Kubler and Max Purcell, also tasted victory on Monday.
Vukic opted to take the American college route to professional tennis and, after qualifying for the French Open last year, franked his form with a 6-4 7-5 defeat of Yen-Hsun Lu.
He will play Italian young gun Jack Sinner next, while wildcard Purcell – a doubles finalist at the Australian Open last year – will play Russian second seed Karen Khachanov after beating Norbert Gombos 6-4 6-4.
Kubler was just as impressive, rallying from a set down to beat ninth seed Lorenzo Sonego 3-6 6-3 6-3.
Highly rated as a junior, Kubler has suffered his share of injury pain and rated the victory the second best of his career.
“I got sent some of the matches he (Sonego) played just so sort of scout him out a little bit and a lot of them were deep in tournaments against top 10, top 20 players,” he said.
“It’s good for my confidence that after injury I’m heading in the right direction.
“I can improve in a lot of things … it’s like a little pat on the back.”
American Frances Tiafoe, an Australian Open quarterfinalist two years ago, was felled by France’s Corentin Moutet 3-6 6-4 6-4 in the biggest upset of the day.