If the ATP had an equivalent of baseball’s disabled list, Duckworth's time spent there would be surpassed only by Juan Martin del Potro. Duckworth previously had a pair of procedures done on his right elbow in 2012 and 2014, but nothing could prepare him for the series of roadblocks that began a few years down the road. In 2017, Duckworth contested a single match, losing in the first round of the Australian Open. That season was marred by setbacks when he underwent three separate surgeries, two on his right foot and one on his right shoulder. After attempting to qualify at two Australian summer events in January 2018, Duckworth went under the knife two more times to remove bone spurs in familiar places: his right foot and right elbow.
Given the toll taken by that point, Duckworth had to weigh all of the scenarios in front of him.
“With my foot, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to come back from that. My dad's a surgeon, and before I had my last foot operation, he wasn't sure if it would work and that I’d be able to do get back to full fitness,” says Duckworth. “That was a long process, just retraining myself, how to jump, how to run, how to hop. So there was a fair few hurdles that I had to overcome. A lot of time was spent rehabbing and watching tennis, when I would have loved to have been out there.”
Using a protected ranking after dropping to No. 1,072, Duckworth entered the French Open later that year. He lost to Marin Cilic, who was ranked No. 4 and the runner-up at two of the past three Slams. Drawing formidable foes in the opening round of majors wasn’t new for Duckworth given his past experiences against Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt in Melbourne, but the Cilic meeting ignited a stretch of unkind draws for a competitor eager to gain ranking points and a swing of momentum. Third-ranked Alexander Zverev, a returning Murray and second-ranked Rafael Nadal all landed next to Duckworth’s name at the following three majors.
“You're going to get good draws, you're going to get bad draws, it's just way of the sport,” accepts Duckworth. “It's great to play those guys to test yourself, to see where you're at, to play on big courts, to play at prime time on TV. That’s where you want to be. It’s obviously nicer when you don't have to play them in the first round, just in regards to rankings and progressing in the tournament.”