Max Purcell will embark on Wimbledon qualifying on Monday hoping to show the form he enjoyed a few miles away in Surbiton earlier this month.
Having come through two rounds of qualifying at the suburban Challenger tournament the 24-year-old Australian reached the quarter-finals, knocking out former Wimbledon semi-finalist Sam Querrey on the way.
Purcell subsequently reached the final of the doubles in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands with compatriot Matthew Ebden, but suffered a disappointing singles exit in the first round of qualifying.
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Nevertheless, the Sydneysider has been savouring the sweet smell of fresh cut grass after a hard grind on the claycourt circuit to which his game is unsuited.
This year he entered six tournaments on clay, qualifying for two, making a third as a lucky loser. He lost in the first round in all three.
“I soak up for this five-week period of the year,” he told AAP.
“I love it. I’m pretty miserable at the end of the clay-court season. I’m hanging for that to finish.
“On the grass, I feel like I’m in my element. I slice a lot, so I love it. It’s much more fun and I feel like I’m playing alright
“I grew up playing a lot on synthetic grass. It’s not the same, you can move on it a little easier, but it’s similar in that the ball stays low and skids through a little bit like on grass.”
Currently world No.157, a career-high singles ranking, Purcell says he is “probably three or four years away from my best tennis” and is “mixing some doubles and singles and trying to enjoy myself first and foremost.”
Purcell is ranked 32 in doubles, having also won in Houston and reached the final of the Australian Open with Ebden, losing to the ‘Special Ks’ combination of Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis.
His individual potential was shown when he beat Felix Auger-Aliassime, now world No.9, in the Tokyo Olympics, but climbing the singles charts is hard.
“The Challenger tour is so heavily clay-based at the moment getting to the top is a nightmare if you want to play on hardcourt – or even grasscourt, for that matter with how strong the tournaments are when you can play them,” he said.
“I’m hoping we can get some more tournaments through Asia because it’s a nightmare for us Australians.
“It’s bloody hard. The Europeans, the South Americans, they live on clay and they eat that stuff up every week.
“For me to know that I could have six or seven clay-court Challengers in a row, it’s tough mentally – and physically because I’m not used to playing or training on it.”
COVID-19 travel restrictions made it even harder, forcing Purcell on the road from April to October without any family able to join him from Australia.
Nevertheless, he reached the final at Eastbourne last year, beating three top-100 opponents, but has forgone that event this week in an attempt to qualify for Wimbledon.
Unfortunately, with Wimbledon not attracting any ranking points due to their ban on Russian and Belarusian players, that means he’s guaranteed to lose a significant number of points hampering his bid to climb the rankings and gain more main draw entries.
“It’s a blow, but I’m not going to pass up the chance to play Wimbledon,” said Purcell, who is yet to play on the famous SW19 courts.
Purcell starts the first of three qualifying rounds against world No.223 ranked Dutchman Gijs Brouwer.