Some players have used the current suspension on Tour as a chance to pick up a new hobby or reconnect with old friends. James Duckworth saw an opportunity to undergo surgery.

The 28-year-old Aussie overcame seven surgeries, including five in a 13-month period throughout 2017 and 2018, to reach his career-high FedEx ATP Ranking of No. 71 this February. He’ll need to push through an eighth surgery if he wants to surpass that after having a procedure in March to clean out his right shoulder, which had been bothering him for nine months prior.

“It’s a bit different to my seven other operations,” Duckworth told ATPTour.com, smiling. “We don’t really know what to prepare for. I’m a bit more conservative in my rehab than I have been previously because I’m not rushing to get back into competition. We’re trying to do all the right things rehab-wise, get it as strong as possible and hopefully have some reduced pain when the season starts again.

“I wouldn’t have had anything done if it wasn’t for the coronavirus. I would have just kept pushing through. But if I hadn’t done something for the shoulder now, I might have been kicking myself when the season started again. It might not work, but my mindset is that at least I tried something.”

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Although Duckworth isn’t ready to resume hitting yet, he’s been actively rehabbing his shoulder and continuing to work on his fitness. He also has a home gym setup at his apartment in Brisbane.

His productive stint at home could be attributed to not being unfamiliar with long stints of rehab and recovery. Duckworth’s long list of surgeries would make anyone wince. But even at his lowest moments at the start of 2018, when his body wasn’t rewarding him for diligent rehab efforts, his love for the game ensured that he never considered hanging up his racquets.

Duckworth’s Surgery Timeline

 Date  Procedure
 Late 2012  Right elbow
 Early 2014  Right elbow
 February 2017  Right foot
 March 2017  Right shoulder
 August 2017  Right foot
 January 2018  Right foot
 February 2018  Right elbow
 March 2020  Right shoulder

“When I was going through such a long phase of not being able to hop and jump and push off like I needed to… I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do this or not. My dad is a shoulder and elbow surgeon, so he knows a lot in the medical world, and he wasn’t sure if my last foot surgery would work,” Duckworth said. “I was pretty nervous because if this didn’t work, there aren’t many other options. There was never a stage where I thought that I’m done, but there were times I thought that I might be in trouble.”

With the support of his family and girlfriend, Duckworth persevered and made a full-time return to the Tour at 2018 Roland Garros. Eighteen months later, he broke back into the Top 100 after winning his fourth ATP Challenger Tour title of 2019 in Pune. The Aussie returned to the Indian city this February and reached his first ATP Tour semi-final, then won another Challenger title the following week in Bengaluru.

Although some players have said that the current suspension gave them new perspective on the sport, Duckworth’s injury battles throughout his career have ensured he’ll always be grateful to compete.

“I went through that already with my previous surgeries,” Duckworth said. “You do take for granted how much you enjoy the sport and how fun it is to be out there competing. Since I came back in 2018, I haven’t taken anything for granted, that’s for sure.”



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