Australian journeyman Max Purcell reckons his tennis dream has come true after fighting his way into his first-ever ATP tournament semi-final at the Eastbourne International.
And in a real boost for Aussie tennis on Thursday, there was even the tantalising prospect that the last pre-Wimbledon event could see a final at the English seaside between two Sydneysiders after the nation’s number-one men’s player, Alex de Minaur, also reached the last-four.
The world number 283 Purcell had only ever won one tour-level match in six years before this week but, amazingly, he’s now a match away from his first ATP final, after defeating former Eastbourne champion Andreas Seppi 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.
It was another remarkable breakthrough from the 23-year-old, who hates playing doubles, even though that’s been his speciality of late as the world number 43 and a former Australian Open finalist, and who swears he’s a singles player.
“I’ve been struggling to get into singles events so winning this many matches on my favourite surface is a dream come true,” Purcell told the crowd at Devonshire Park.
In a tournament where he’d already been beaten in the qualifiers, ‘lucky loser’ Purcell has taken full advantage of his reinstatement.
After knocking out former Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson in the qualifiers, he lost to Belarusian Ilya Ivashka but was drafted back into the main draw when others dropped out and then beat fellow Aussie James Duckworth before world number 16 Gael Monfils in the last round.
In Thursday’s quarter-final, he took a second set pummelling from the Italian veteran Seppi, eventually winning a chess-like battle of wits in the third set end-game on a blustery afternoon.
It set up a semi-final against Italian number three seed Lorenzo Sonego.
“That’s five three-setters in a row I’ve played and I’ve been a break down in the final set in the last three of them, but I’m never going to give up.
Sonego had earlier looked impressive in beating the unpredictable, underarm-serving Alexander Bublik 6-1, 7-5.
Then de Minaur, who seems to have had the very best brought out of him by the grass courts he so enjoys, outplayed Canadian Vasek Pospisil 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 28 minutes.
The world number 18 will play another ‘lucky loser’, Korea’s world number 77 Soonwoo Kwon in the other semi-final and, following his semi-final defeat at Queen’s Club last week, is now hot favourite to go to Wimbledon as a first-time grass-court tournament winner.
“I’m extremely happy with where’s my game’s at,” said de Minaur, who was also delighted for the success of Purcell, with whom he shared many a court growing up in Sydney.
“Max is a very talented player. I grew up with him and he’s been playing a bit of doubles recently but wants to be playing more singles and he’s been having a hell of a week, playing great tennis and deserving to be where he is right now,” said de Minaur.
And that prospect of an all-Australian final? He stifled a laugh before playing a dead bat. “I’ve just got to focus on my side of the court,” smiled de Minaur.