Chris O’Connell has tried to accentuate the positives after a never-say-die comeback on his French Open debut – but the Australian couldn’t help feeling “devastated” by the wretched denouement to his first-ever five-setter.
The Sydneysider, who pulled off an eye-opening surprise at the Australian Open against Jan-Lennard Struff, looked set to repeat the dose in Paris as he fought back from two sets down to seemingly put himself in the driving seat against fancied American Tommy Paul.
Yet just when a memorable victory looked his for the taking, standing at 7-6 up and just two points away from victory, the script went awry as the US favourite kept his nerve better to win 6-2 6-4 4-6 4-6 10-8 after three hours 33 minutes.
“It’s pretty devastating, I’m really upset about it. I gave myself every opportunity to win the match. I’m happy I fought back and gave myself the opportunity to win the match but, unfortunately, it wasn’t for me today,” said O’Connell.
“It hurts because I came back from two sets down – but then every loss hurts just as much, no matter the circumstances.”
Understandably, he was too despondent to see that, actually, what he had achieved had been fairly remarkable considering he’d just come off a two-month competitive break in a bid to ease an ankle problem that had been bothering him since last October.
“I’m excited I’m playing tennis again but obviously really upset that I got into a fight, into a fifth set, and I wasn’t able to get over the line,” he shrugged.
The 26-year-old had only played his first clay-court match of the season last week in Belgrade and was taking on the world No.52, who was ranked 77 places above him on the ATP computer.
Everything pointed to a straightforward win for Paul – and it looked that way as O’Connell lost the first four games before going on to surrender the opening two sets fairly tamely.
“But I found conditions pretty tough but the longer I stayed out there, the better I felt,” reckoned O’Connell, who took the next two sets by breaking when 5-4 up.
For 16 games in the final set, the pair went unbroken until O’Connell, by now looking a bit jaded, had his serve cracked to 15.
He still made a fight of it, saving two match points and even earning a break-back point of his own until one weary backhand low into the net sealed his fate.
“It’s an amazing experience (taking a match to five sets). That’s why grand slams are unique,” said O’Connell.
“You have a lot of time out there to figure things out. It took me a little bit longer to figure things out today and obviously it’s disappointing,”
But he reckons he can’t afford to sulk. “I need to get over this loss pretty quickly because Wimbledon’s just round the corner.
“It’s my first-ever grass court season. I’ve never done qualifying for Wimbledon, so I’m excited for the next few weeks.”