AAP Tennis

Sydney tennis battler’s incredible rise

By AAP Newswire

From cleaning boats last year to make ends meet to a spot in next month's Australian Open main draw, Chris O'Connell shapes as one of tennis's feel-good stories of the summer.

The Sydney battler has seemingly irresistible claims for an Open wildcard after soaring from outside the world's top 1000 to being on the cusp of the top 100 during a simply spectacular 2019 campaign.

A 14-times finalist on the ITF Futures and Challenger tours, no player won more matches than O'Connell's 82 this year - not even grand slam giants Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic or the prolific Daniil Medvedev on the big tour.

"It's the year I needed to have," O'Connell told AAP.

"I've finally had a full year of health.

"The last couple of years have been pretty tough - in 2017 I suffered a bit of pneumonia and that set me back.

"And 2018 I was dealing with a knee tendonitis issue that kept me out for about six months from January through to June.

"Yeah, it's been awesome finally being injury-free and being able to look after my body the best I ever have."

It was a mid-year epiphany that triggered O'Connell's incredible surge.

"As soon as I turned 25 in June, it kind of scared me how quickly time's passed and how I hadn't done too much with my tennis up until that point," he said.

"It sort of clicked things into gear in a weird way when I turned 25.

"I had the 'I want it to happen now' sort of feeling."

During the dark times last year, O'Connell complemented his casual coaching work with washing boats on Sydney's Pittwater Harbour to keep his bank account in the black.

But far from moping, he copped his lot and got on with it.

"It's super tough but it's part of the sport," O'Connell said.

"A lot of the Australian players that I can think of have dealt with injury setbacks."

Basing himself in Belgrade for much of the year, O'Connell began the season at No.1177 in the world and ended it ranked 120th.

He opted out of this week's Australian Open wildcard playoff believing he'd done enough to warrant a main-draw berth.

"I haven't officially heard anything yet and I won't officially hear anything til closer to the Australian Open, but I'm the first Aussie outside that top hundred so I mean I'm first in line for a wildcard," O'Connell said.

"They've got five wildcards to give so I'm nearly 100 per cent certain I've got one."

With designs on cracking the top 100 in 2020, O'Connell also hopes it's the last grand slam wildcard he'll ever need.