By Darren Walton
(Australian Associated Press)
Australia has converted its biggest Wimbledon contingent in 20 years to its best start to the tournament since before the turn of the century.
But friendships are about to go on hold for two of Australia’s nine stars into the second round at the All England Club.
Sam Groth and James Duckworth share a house in Wimbledon village, the same coach and the same goal: a dream third-round showcourt match-up with seven-times champion Roger Federer.
But, unlike the old days when Australian greats like Neale Fraser, Ashley Cooper, Fred Stolle, Roy Emerson, Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall used to room together and eat with one another before clashing in Wimbledon finals, Groth and Duckworth won’t be sharing breakfast on Thursday morning.
Apart from the fact the two great mates will square off hours later, Groth’s girlfriend is the only other person staying at the apartment at London’s SW19 and, according to Duckworth, two’s company and three’s a crowd for the next couple of days.
“She cooks for him,” Duckworth said.
“Look, it’s a tough situation and we’re obviously mates now but we’ll go out there and do battle and we’ll be mates again afterwards.”
Eager to avoid a repeat of the dramas that ensued after Tony Roche sat in Pat Rafter’s box rather than Mark Philippoussis’s during the 1998 US Open final, the pair’s coach Ben Mathias won’t even be courtside for the high-stakes showdown.
“Ben’s going to the pub and having a few beers and watching on TV, he’s just told us,” Groth said.
“It’s interesting. It could be a bit tense in the house the next couple of days.
“We travel together, we practise together and we’re good mates so in one way it’s great there’ll be an Aussie in third round.
“But I’ve got to try and treat it not like it’s a friend (I’m playing), but like it’s another match and a match I feel like I can win.”
Groth, 27, and Duckworth, 23, set up the all-Australian encounter with watershed wins on Tuesday.
Groth, the world No.69, upset American 31st seed Jack Sock 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-3 for his maiden main-draw victory at the All England Club.
Duckworth, 18 spots below Groth in the rankings, reached round two for the first time with a fighting 7-6 (7-2) 6-2 3-6 3-6 7-6 victory over Tunisian Malek Jaziri.
Duckworth’s success also buried some grand slam demons after he suffered a gut-wrenching first-round French Open loss from two sets up against Italian Andrea Arnabo last month.
He squandered a match point in that defeat and dubbed it the worst experience he’d endured on a tennis court.
The Sydneysider admitted he had flashbacks to Paris during a toilet break after dropping the fourth set on Tuesday.
“If I’d lost another grand slam match from two sets to love up, I would have been pretty devastated,” Duckworth said.
“It went to my head a little but. But then I went to the court, got on with the job and I’m really happy to have won in the end.”
With Casey Dellacqua notching an impressive 6-2 6-2 victory over two-time women’s quarter-finalist Tamira Paszek and Ajla Tomljanovic also advancing 6-3 6-4 over Czech Klara Koukalova, Australia boasts nine first-round singles winners.
Not since Rafter made the semi-finals and Philippoussis the quarter-finals in 1999 has Australia enjoyed such healthy representation in round two.
But Jarmila Gajdosova is out of the tournament after going down 7-5 6-4 to Germany’s former finalist and 18th seed Sabine Lisicki.