Australia's James Duckworth walked onto the court for the finals of Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships men's singles Sunday afternoon with a score to settle, and he did exactly that.
The 22-year-old native of Sydney played Great Britain's James Ward, who is ranked 150th in the world and has beaten Duckworth all three times they've been opponents. One of those previous matches was in last year's men's singles finals here, which Duckworth lost in three sets 6-4, 3-6, 4-6.
This year Duckworth came out on top — in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4.
"So it was not a good record going into the final, but I felt like I had gotten better with every match this week," No. 6 seed Duckworth said after the match.
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"Quigley played a tough match, and from there I got some momentum," he said, referring to his first-round match against former University of Kentucky Wildcat Eric Quigley, which went to three sets 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-5.
From there, Duckworth won in straight sets all the way through the finals.
Against No. 5 seed Ward, Duckworth played a very aggressive game, mixing up the pace of his groundstrokes, forehand and backhand, and working the corners of the court. He had the edge on serving, as well, winning points off 85 percent of his first serves to Ward's 74 percent.
"I think it has been a gradual process of evolving my game," Duckworth said about the difference in his game today from a year ago. "My trainers and I have put a lot of effort toward playing more aggressively, coming forward more, and making things happen under pressure. Playing aggressively is what I felt I did well today."
Duckworth was equally effective in neutralizing Ward's powerful serve, which has been an extraordinary weapon all week. Duckworth won points off 26 percent of Ward's first serves compared with Ward, who won points off 15 percent of Duckworth's first serves.
"I have focused a lot on returning; picking up on where the other guy tends to hit the ball and doing a better job of reading it," said Duckworth, who got the edge on aces in the finals, too, hitting eight to Ward's six.
Ward was matter of fact about the loss and seemed to take it in stride.
"I missed too many balls, and it's disappointing; I'll move on and try to play better next week," he said.
Brengle takes women's title
American Madison Brengle was a model of consistency this week at the Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships, including in the finals, where her steadiness and resolve to come back in the second set led her to a 6-3, 6-4 win over fellow American Nicole Gibbs.
"We were closely matched in the first set," said No. 2 seed Brengle, a 24-year-old from Dover, Del., who trains at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and is ranked 151. "When I got down 4-2 in the second set, though, I knew I had to start off each point aggressively, both my serves and my returns."
The first set, Brengle moved easily, using her athleticism to chase down balls and make very few errors. No. 7 seed Gibbs came to Lexington straight off of two Challenger events, one of which she won last week, defeating Melanie Oudin, a fellow competitor in this tournament whom Brengle took out in the semifinals Saturday.
On Sunday, Gibbs didn't seem as charged as Brengle as she made more errors and looked more leg weary than her opponent. Still, the 21-year-old from California rallied in the second set to get ahead 4-2, but Brengle did not back down, coming back stronger.
"I didn't have a choice," said Brengle. "She was playing too well."
Gibbs, a former standout at Stanford University who is ranked 167, was complimentary of Brengle's game but admitted the past few weeks have somewhat wearing.
Gibbs said an earlier issue with her hip did not come into play.
"It had nothing to do with the outcome; I got outplayed," she said. "Maybe I was a step slow but that happens at the end of the week, and she had to deal with it as much as I do."
Gibbs, Oudin and Brengle all came into the tournament as contenders for a USTA Pro Circuit wild card into the U.S. Open main draw based on points from the best two results from three specific hard-court Challenger tournaments (Sacramento, Calif.; Carson; Calif.; and Lexington).