Hailed as Australia’s “right-handed version of Rafael Nadal” before injuries derailed his career, Jason Kubler has fought back from match point down to move just one match away from making it into the main draw of the French Open for the first time.
Turning 29 years old on match day, the former junior world number one Kubler dug deep to come back from the brink of defeat and savor one of his biggest wins over the experienced Moldovan Radu Albot in the second round of qualifying.
When he first burst onto the scene with his powerful build and strong forehand, Kubler was often likened to the powerful champion Nadal. Born in the north Brisbane suburb of Mango Hill to a Filipino mother, Kubler’s passion for tennis came from his Australian father, John, whom he lost to cancer when he was eight.
Kubler channeled his grief into the game the father and son had loved. When Kubler went on to win five junior titles in a row, he was inevitably hailed as “Australian tennis’s next big thing.” in 2009, he became just the second player in history (alongside Rafael Nadal) to go undefeated through the World Youth Cup and Junior Davis Cup.
But injuries bedeviled his rise to the top, and Kubler has been forced to battle on the Challenger circuit outside the top 100 for the best part of a decade as a generation next led by Nick Kyrgios and Alex De Minaur seemingly passed him by.
However, Kubler has enjoyed a renaissance in this 2022 season. It began when he reached the Australian Open mixed doubles final with Jaimee Fourlis and continued on the clay courts as he fought his way back via lower-ranked tournaments. After once falling outside the world’s top 1000, Kubler’s ranking has now surged to 161 after winning a couple of minor ITF events in Canberra on clay earlier this year.
Yet Kubler looked to be heading for the exits in his fourth attempt at French Open qualifying. He was match point down at 5-6, staring at a straight sets defeat, before clawing his back to earn a memorable 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (10-4) win after more than three and quarter hours, dominating the first-to-10-points super tiebreak (introduced to conclude all matches which are locked at 6-6 in a final set) to claim a famous victory.
The gutsy Queenslander must now fancy his chances of beating Portugal’s Pedro Sousa, ranked No 287, to reach his first overseas grand slam for four years.
And he could be joined by fellow rookie compatriot Seone Mendez, who’s never been in the main draw of any grand slam women’s main draw but has given herself a dream chance with an equally gutsy win in qualifying at Roland Garros on Wednesday.
Mendez, the 23-year-old daughter of former Socceroos international Gabriel ‘ChiChi’ Mendez, also prevailed 7-6 (9-7) 7-5 in a real battle to overcome American Caroline Dolehide, who’s 50 places higher than the Australian in the rankings.
Mendez had to save four set points in the opening stanza before taking it after 57 minutes. It took nearly another hour before she reeled off the last three straight games to earn a third-round qualifying date with the ninth qualifying seed Rebecca Marino.
The Sydneysider will start as an outsider in that contest, as she’s over 100 places behind the Canadian world No 116 Marino in the rankings.
The rest of the Australian challenge faded on Wednesday, with Fourlis, Priscilla Hon, Arina Rodionova, Lizette Cabrera, and Aleksandar Vukic bowing out in second-round clashes, respectively, leaving just two survivors from the dozen who’d begun the qualification quest.