Australian wildcard Christopher O’Connell scored the biggest win of his career at his home Slam on Thursday, upsetting 13th-seeded Diego Schwartzman in a 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-4 stunner.
The world No. 175, who is making his fourth appearance at the Australian Open, has advanced to the third round in a major for the first time in six main draw attempts.
“It’s the biggest win of my career,” O’Connell said. “It’s an incredible feeling to do it in the Australian Open, second round… It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had on a tennis court. Tennis since I was four. It’s a dream come true.”
Born in Sydney, 27-year-old O’Connell spent six months cleaning boats during an injury layoff in 2018. But he successfully returned on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2019 before taking his first major win at the 2020 US Open, where he lost in the second round to Daniil Medvedev.
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The Sydney native paid tribute to his coach, former pro Marinko Matosevic, who he has worked with for the past 12 months. “The process didn’t start yesterday. It’s been going on all year,” O’Connell said. “I’ve worked with Marinko. He’s just confident in how I want to play tennis right now. It’s the first time I’ve had a one-on-one coach with me literally every day.”
With a career-high ATP ranking of No. 111 in 2020, O’Connell will once again be the underdog in Round 3. But a win over World No. 70 Maxime Cressy would hardly qualify as a shock, as the American is also in the third for the first time in a Slam round. He was a 6-1, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 (5) winner of Czech qualifier Tomas Machac in the second round.
After a slow start, O’Connell grew into the match with the help of an eager Aussie crowd on Court 3. For over three hours and seven minutes, he kept the Argentine on the back foot in most rallies. Despite his superiority, the 27-year-old had to survive a tense final as Schwartzman cleared a break from the third set.
Rather than collapse in the face of that disappointment, O’Connell seized the opportunity by winning the final two games of the competition, sealing his progress with three clutch winners (of 44 pre-game) and one not -returned ‘T’ service at match point.
At first, it seemed unlikely that the shock seemed any more like a long shot as Schwartzman served for the opening set. But O’Connell erased two set points and then recovered a mini-break in the tie-break to steal the opening stanza with a winner.
That got the Aussie crowd going and their man upped his game as he found more success on offense in set two. O’Connell forced the stable Schwartzman back behind the baseline, dominated on serve and won the last 10 points of the set of two at 3-4.
Schwartzman held onto the start of set three and saved three break points in the opening game. Full of confidence, O’Connell did not let go of his opponent in the third game of the set. Another winner secured his second break in three return matches, his third of the game.
That made for an exciting, eventful stretch run. The Australian saved a breakpoint to hold on to 4-2, but couldn’t stop the stubborn Schwartzman from closing at 4-all. Just when it looked like Schwartzman could turn things around, O’Connell found one last burst to cross the line.