James Duckworth has left Australia’s Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt with some serious food for thought after taking another dramatic step forward in his brilliant breakthrough year at the Paris Masters.

Duckworth leapt into the air twice in delight after beating Alexei Popyrin 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 in Thursday’s absorbing last-16 clash to become the first Australian to reach an ATP Masters 1000 singles quarter-final in three years.

The 29-year-old had been hugely disappointed to be omitted from captain Hewitt’s five-man Davis Cup squad for this month’s finals, especially as three lower-ranked singles players – John Millman, Jordan Thompson and Popyrin – were selected ahead of him.

With this excellent and convincing win over Popyrin, Duckworth, who’ll burst into the top 50 for the first time next week, showed again why he deserved to be in the squad as he’s simply the best Australian men’s player on tour at the moment.

Alex de Minaur is the men’s No.1 but he’s won only four of 15 matches since Wimbledon, including Tuesday’s loss to Popyrin in Paris.

Yet Duckworth, playing a brand of aggressive, fearless tennis now he’s free from the injuries that have bedevilled him for years, has won 15 of his last 20.

Now set to jump from 55 to at least 47 in the rankings next week, Duckworth won’t be fearing seventh seed Hubert Hurkacz when the pair meet for the first time on Friday to tussle for a place in the semis.

Poland’s world No.10 Hurkacz, who can still qualify for the season-ending ATP finals, defeated Dominik Koepfer, the German lucky loser who’d beaten Andy Murray and Felix Auger-Aliassime earlier in the tournament, 4-6 7-5 6-2.

It was the manner in which Duckworth ground down the big-serving Popyrin in their first-ever Tour-level meeting which seemed so impressive.

Popyrin, the world No.71 who’d been hoping to take advantage of his ‘lucky loser’ chance in the main draw after being defeated in the qualifiers by Tommy Paul, made a blistering start but Duckworth hit back after falling behind 3-1 quickly to largely dominate the exchanges.

Popyrin saved four set points but eventually clipped a forehand long after he failed to control a blistering Duckworth service return to lose the opener after 58 minutes.

Chuntering away unhappily to his box, Popyrin’s game then began to fall apart as he lost 18 of the first 20 points in the second stanza and stood a break point away from falling 5-0 behind.

It said much about his character that he battled back brilliantly to 4-4 only for Duckworth to again raise his game to a fresh level to earn a fourth break and finally shatter his resistance after an hour and 47 minutes.

Later, Novak Djokovic advanced to the quarter-finals without playing a point because his French opponent Gael Monfils pulled out with an adductor injury.

Five-time Paris Masters champ Djokovic will next face unseeded American Taylor Fritz, who beat Britain’s Cameron Norrie 6-3 7-6 (7-3) to damage the British player’s chances of qualifying for the ATP Finals.

Fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev advanced to the last eight after beating No.16 Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (7-4) 6-7 (3-7) 6-3 in an intense contest lasting two hours 45 minutes.

Duckworth powers past Popyrin in Paris
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