Australian tennis stars will attempt to reach the Davis Cup final just a fortnight after completing the worst grand slam season in more than 20 years.
Tennis Australia’s head of performance, Wally Masur, admits having only two players in the second week at the majors for the first time since 1995 is barely satisfactory. But he is convinced brighter times are just around the corner.
Daria Gavrilova, who reached the last 16 at the Australian Open for the second straight year before landing her maiden WTA title in New Haven last month, has established herself in the world’s top 20.
Ashleigh Barty will also climb to a career-high No.36 after making the last 32 in New York and winning her first title in Malaysia, while Samantha Stosur loomed as a serious French Open contender until a stress fracture in her hand cost her in a painful fourth-round loss to eventual champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Australia’s leading men had a dreadful year at the slams, with Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic each winning only two matches.
Masur, though, insists it is not all doom and gloom.
“At the start of the year we had Thanasi Kokkinakis out of the game for 18 months, John Millman was out of the game after hip surgery, then James Duckworth, who was on the cusp of the top 100, he had shoulder and hip surgery,” Masur said.
“So while we go into the slams with a focus on Nick and Bernie on the men’s side and Sam, Dasha and now Ash with the girls, sometimes it’s that support cast that gets the whole crew playing well together.
“So as the year’s gone on, if I can take a positive, Thanasi is back playing slams, John Millman is back playing slams and he’s just equalled his best effort.
“What that’s done is the Fed Cup side is starting to look pretty good and the Davis Cup has great depth and is about to play a semi-final.
“Ash and Dasha are only going to get better and, if Sam comes back healthy, we’ve got three girls in the top 30, top 20 and that’s as good as we’ve had it for a long, long time.”
Masur can’t deny Kyrgios, who has been dogged by hip and shoulder injuries for the past year, has been poor on the sport’s four biggest stages in 2017.
“Nick’s usually been a really good grand slam performer over the past two to three years so we always look to him to make a charge deep into the second week but it didn’t happen for him this year,” he said.
“But, on the flip side, he’s been really good in Davis Cup. His wins in Brisbane against the two Americans (John Isner and Sam Querrey) were outstanding.
“So we know he can do it over five sets. He’s just got to get it right in the slams.
“But with the players we’ve got now we’re probably not going to be satisfied with third round.”