James Duckworth has responded to being left out of Australia's Davis Cup squad in staggering fashion, marching into his first Masters quarter-final in Paris.
Duckworth has left Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt with some serious food for thought after taking another dramatic step forward in his brilliant breakthrough year at the Paris Masters.
The 29-year-old was left shattered last month after being omitted from Hewitt's five-man Davis Cup squad for the upcoming finals.
Hewitt went with three lower-ranked singles players - John Millman, Jordan Thompson and Popyrin - ahead of the in-form Duckworth.
But with a convincing win over Popyrin on Thursday, Duckworth showed again why he deserved to be in the squad as he's simply the best Australian men's player on tour at the moment.
Duckworth leapt into the air in delight after beating his fellow Sydneysider 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 in Thursday's absorbing last-16 clash in Bercy.
The victory made him the first Australian to reach an ATP Masters 1000 singles quarter-final since Matthew Ebden in Shanghai three years ago.
Duckworth will move into the world top 50 for the first time in his career next week, making his Davis Cup snub even more baffling.
Alex de Minaur is the Australia's No.1 player, but he's won just four of 15 matches since Wimbledon, including Tuesday's loss to Popyrin in Paris.
Duckworth, playing a brand of aggressive, fearless tennis now he's free from the injuries that have bedevilled him for years, has won 15 of his last 20.
"Team selection is never easy," Hewitt said after naming his squad.
"We will be led by our No.1 Alex de Minaur, who has had a really consistent three to four years on the tour and has established himself as a top player.
"John Millman gave us the opportunity to play in these Davis Cup Finals a year and a half ago in Adelaide against Brazil. He bleeds green and gold and loves representing Australia.
"Jordan Thompson has played some big matches in Davis Cup in the past. He had a great doubles win with John Peers, beating Colombia two years ago.
"Alexei Popyrin plays his best tennis in the biggest matches and the biggest tournaments. He has a lot of firepower and a lot of weapons and it's nice to have another young gun in the team."
However fans were left gobsmacked that Duckworth was overlooked.
If you can make a case for Duckworth being behind each of De Minaur, Millman, Thompson AND Popyrin, then you can probably sell me some magic beans as well.
At least Duckworth makes the ATP Cup side on merit as at least the number 2 ranked singles player.
— Steve (@Ace_Previews) November 4, 2021
Duckworth's gone 13-4 since US Open incl a final in Nur-Sultan, QF in Sofia, a Challenger title plus this win & is Aussie no.2. Hewitt didn't pick him for Davis Cup while another player is 0-4 since US Open including loss to no.901. Hewitt isn't impartial, a disgraceful decision. https://t.co/jnFnX8TKdQ
— Dale Roberts (@ozdale) November 2, 2021
I cannot believe James Duckworth was snubbed of a spot in the Davis Cup team. It makes 0 sense!
He’s the most in form Aussie on the tour right now - without a doubt, and the second highest ranked at 51. In career best form, at a career high rank... here’s some stats from 2021 👇
— Jedd Zetzer (@JeddZetzer) October 26, 2021
Totally unfair - @JamesDuck21 has worked so hard to get back to a fantastic level… extremely poor decision.
— Jamie Muscatel (@JamieMuscatel) October 26, 2021
James Duckworth advances to first Masters 1000 quarter-final
Set to jump from 55 to at least 47 in the world rankings next week, Duckworth won't be fearing seventh seed Hubert Hurkacz when the pair meet for the first time on Friday to tussle for a place in the semis.
Poland's World No.10 Hurkacz, who can still qualify for the season-ending ATP finals, defeated Dominik Koepfer, the German lucky loser who'd beaten Andy Murray and Felix Auger-Aliassime earlier in the tournament, 4-6 7-5 6-2.
It was the manner in which Duckworth ground down the big-serving Popyrin in their first-ever Tour-level meeting which seemed so impressive.
Popyrin, the World No.71 who'd been hoping to take advantage of his 'lucky loser' chance in the main draw after being defeated in the qualifiers by Tommy Paul, made a blistering start.
However Duckworth hit back after falling behind 3-1 quickly to largely dominate the exchanges.
Popyrin saved four set points but eventually clipped a forehand long after he failed to control a blistering Duckworth service return to lose the opener after 58 minutes.
Chuntering away unhappily to his box, Popyrin's game then began to fall apart as he lost 18 of the first 20 points in the second stanza and stood a break point away from falling 5-0 behind.
It said much about his character that he battled back brilliantly to 4-4.
However Duckworth again raised his game to a fresh level to earn a fourth break and finally shatter his resistance after an hour and 47 minutes.
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