Having endured more than his fair share of frustration and bad luck, Jason Kubler could not be blamed for having wanted to throw in the towel at various stages of his professional career.
Multiple knee operations curtailed Kubler’s progress after he graduated from the junior ranks, and at times he was forced to work as a tennis coach to survive financially.
But perseverance has always been one of Kubler’s strengths and there were few more deserving winners on day one at the Australian Open after the 29-year-old reached the second round for the first time at Melbourne Park.
Kubler — who had not played at the Australian Open since 2019 — defeated Argentina’s world number 44 Sebastian Baez 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 on John Cain Arena, his victory coming 13 years after he made his debut in the tournament’s main draw as a 16-year-old.
The result set up a clash with Russia’s experienced 18th seed Karen Khachanov.
Kubler’s win — along with the stirring five-set triumphs from John Millman and Rinky Hijikata — lifted the spirits of Australian tennis fans following the news of Nick Kyrgios’s withdrawal due to a knee injury.
“I think it’s almost like 18 months now injury-free,” Kubler told his media conference at Melbourne Park on Monday.
“That’s probably the main thing. I’m getting confidence by staying out on court.”
Kubler was ranked 203 in the world this time last year, but a consistent 2022 season saw him rise to a career-high 84.
He played all but the Australian Open among the majors, the highlight being his fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon as a qualifier.
Kubler has hit Melbourne Park in excellent form after two wins for Australia in the United Cup and a round-of-16 finish at the second Adelaide International tournament last week.
“I’m proud of myself. I wasn’t sure last year if I’d be in this sort of situation,” Kubler said.
“With my year last year, I was able to win a round at the French, the US Open, then have that pretty special run for me at Wimbledon as well.
“In the last four grand slams, I’ve been able to win a match in main draw. If anything, I’m more proud of that.”
Kubler focused on majors
Playing the majors is Kubler’s main goal in 2023, as he admits he is not obsessed with rankings.
The prize money that comes with advancing through the rounds at majors is obviously enticing, too.
Just for making the second round at Melbourne Park, Kubler will bank $158,850, a far cry from the days when he was coaching to make ends meet.
“My basic goals are kind of keep getting in the main draw of the slams,” he said.
“With the way tennis has worked out, if I can keep doing that I’ll be happy because they’re the tournaments where you make the most money. But I’ve never really had great ranking goals or anything like that.
“Right now, it’s just to be consistent, stay on court, stay healthy, stay fit and strong. At the moment I’m still sort of showing myself what I’m capable of. I’ve never been in this situation before.
“I’ve never really had an 18-month block where I’ve been injury-free. I still feel like I’m improving. I still feel like I’m learning in situations.”
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