Men’s qualifying wrap: Purcell punches main draw ticket

  • Dan Imhoff

Two years ago, Max Purcell was soaking up a backcourt crowd with compatriot Alex De Minaur at Melbourne Park, the two Sydney teenagers playing as a wildcard pairing in the men’s doubles.

De Minaur had already contested Grand Slam main draws in singles but for Purcell, only 10 months older, this was his first taste of a main draw in any discipline on the big stage.

The wildcard duo came up short on that occasion, but on Friday, the 21-year-old Purcell earned his first passage into a singles main draw at a major with victory over Slovak Jozef Kovalik.

While De Minaur has since catapulted to become Australia’s top-ranked man, Purcell has plied his trade at Futures and Challenger-level events.

MORE: Friday’s men's qualifying results

For a player at No.216 in the world, having never been ranked high enough to make the qualifying draw at his home Grand Slam, this was a moment Purcell had pictured.

‘I’ll have the crowd behind me on Monday or Tuesday. I’m just going to give it everything’
Max Purcell

“I’ve kind of always been thinking ‘I think I’ll make one, I think I’ll make one’, but then every slam goes past and you don’t, you think ‘will it ever happen’?” Purcell said after the 6-4 6-2 victory.

“It’s just such a relief, especially in my home country and I’ll have the crowd behind me on Monday or Tuesday. I’m just going to give it everything.”

MORE: Women’s wrap: Bogdan blows it, teenagers shine

Purcell had come close to booking his spot a month ago, only to fall in the final of the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff to John-Patrick Smith.

For the second time, he stood within a win of advancing.

And on Friday, there was an element of revenge driving the curly-haired Australian. A day prior, Kovalik had narrowly edged out Purcell’s regular doubles partner on the Challenger Tour, Luke Saville.

“I’m with him almost every week of the year, so it was shattering to see him lose,” Purcell said of Saville. 

“I thought I kind of owed it to him to get a win today.”

MORE: Full men’s qualifying draw

Twelve months ago, calls of “Bravissimo!” rang through Rod Laver Arena as then 16-year-old Lorenzo Musetti saved a championship point en route to the boys’ single title in a dramatic match tiebreak against Emilio Nava.

That result earned the gifted Italian a wildcard into this year’s Australian Open qualifying and on Friday, the 357th-ranked teenager was bellowing “bravissimo” from the far corner of Melbourne Park as he moved to within a win of making his Grand Slam main draw debut.

On the distant Court 15, Musetti rebounded from a break down in the final set to deny former world No.56 Marius Copil 6-7(6) 6-4 7-5.

Musetti stormed home to stun Copil

“In this stage, in this site, of course it’s the best match of my career,” the Italian said.

“It was like a mental game from the beginning, he was serving really good.

“It was just focus on every point and that’s what I did. You cannot imagine how I feel right now.”

As he did at Melbourne Park 12 months ago, Musetti snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

He grew in courage and conviction when it mattered most – with Copil serving for the match at 5-3 – as he reeled off four straight games to seal the unlikely turnaround.

The win sets a final-round qualifying showdown with Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor, a 7-5 7-5 winner over Australian Rinky Hijikata, and the chance to join 18-year-old Italian compatriot Jannik Sinner in the main draw.

“I think all the juniors, Jannik, me and also Giulio Zeppieri – last year he made the semifinal here [in juniors] and I beat him,” Musetti said.

“I think it’s (Fabio) Fognini, (Marco) Cecchinato, what they did they inspired us to always push forward to try to give the best you can do.”

In other final-round qualifying matches, former world No.10 Ernests Gulbis booked a return to the main draw with a 7-6(2) 6-2 victory over India’s Prajnesh Gunneswaran. The Latvian, now ranked outside the top 250, will feature in his 10th Australian Open main draw.

Ernests Gulbis
Gulbis has two main draw wins in Melbourne to his credit

Former world No.26 Lukas Rosol was not so fortunate. The big-hitting Czech went down 6-4 6-2 to Spain’s Pedro Martinez Portero.

Slovakia’s Norbert Gombos and Belarusian Ilya Ivashka also sealed their places in the main draw with straight-sets wins over Peja Krstin and Li Zhe, respectively.