Another Aussie embroiled in ‘underarm’ sporting incident – but this time it’s tennis

Australia’s tale of Roland Garros woe has plumbed new depths with Max Purcell missing out on six match points before finally losing his first-round match in bewildering fashion following a stirring comeback.

May 28, 2024, updated May 28, 2024
Max Purcell staged a bewildering collapse, during which he served underarm at one point - to join the list of Aussies beaten in the first round at Roland Garros. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

Max Purcell staged a bewildering collapse, during which he served underarm at one point - to join the list of Aussies beaten in the first round at Roland Garros. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

But the shattered Purcell, who defended how he delivered an underarm serve on one of his failed match points against qualifier Henri Squire, was adamant after his five-set reverse that he had “no regrets”, even while reflecting on what a “s***” sport tennis can be.

The Sydneysider’s agonising exit to the German grand slam newcomer on Monday left the green-and-gold contingent at 0-6 – five defeats and an injury withdrawal – after two days with the women’s challenge already over following Daria Saville’s earlier 6-3 6-4 loss to Jasmine Paolini on Monday.

It will be the first time since 1997 there’ll be no Australian woman in the second round of the Paris slam following Ajla Tomljanovic’s exit on Sunday.

Yet Purcell looked as if would finally break the men’s drought when rallying from two sets down against big-hitting Squire and twice served for the match on the verge of his first five-set win.

He’d be forgiven if what happened next haunted him for the rest of his tennis days.

He failed to convert four match points when serving at 5-4 but then, having broken Squire again to serve at 6-5, earned a fifth match point, only to take the fateful decision to serve underarm.

“I do it a lot in practice, it’s worth going for it – absolutely,” Purcell said.

“No regrets – hindsight’s a s*** thing, isn’t it? No just take the positives, learn from them – I hate living in the past.”

Squire caught on to the underarm ruse quickly and won the point, leaving the 25-year-old Purcell’s head understandably scrambled as he then served a double fault and screwed a backhand wide, taking the contest into a super tiebreaker

In a nail-biter, Purcell fought back once more from 9-7 to rescue two match points and earned a sixth himself which the German saved, but, eventually, a tired backhand into the net enabled Squire to prevail after three hours and 21 minutes.

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Asked how he’d get over it, Purcell just shrugged: “I’ll go practice tomorrow, then doubles the next day. The game keeps going, it’s fine.

“I’m proud of the way that I fought, I should have walked off with the spoils, but that’s tennis, it’s a s*** sport, you don’t always win when you’re winning.”

That was something positive for Purcell to take from a match, interrupted by two rain breaks, in which qualifier Squire was “playing lights out” for two sets.

“I wished he’d just open his eyes,” smiled Purcell ruefully.

Earlier, Saville fought valiantly against rising star Paolini, but her second-set fightback from 5-1 to the verge of 5-4 fell agonisingly short, after it was interrupted by an hour’s rain delay that halted her momentum.

But the 30-year-old Australian No.1 didn’t complain, bemoaning only that she served so poorly, holding her delivery just once in eight attempts while also gifting nine double faults.

“I felt like the whole match was actually a lot closer than maybe the scoreline suggested,” said Saville, “but I struggled with the serve, and it cost me, especially in the first set.”

“But at 5-4 on that return game, I made four unforced forehand errors, trying to dictate but missing. I’m okay with that, though, because I think I took a chance, but it just didn’t work out.”

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