Young Aussie aiming high

Updated: 2011-10-16 10:16

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - This time last year, he was honing his skills at a low-level tournament in Scotland.

A year later and Matthew Ebden reached the quarterfinals of the prestigious Shanghai Masters.

The change of scenery could not be more dramatic, but Ebden has taken the sharp upturn in his fortunes in his stride.

The Aussie world No 124 player put in a stunning performance after coming through the qualifying rounds and reaching the ATP 1000 Masters tournament's quarterfinals on Friday.

Although he lost to No 2 seed Andy Murray in the final eight, Ebden will likely surge into the world's top 80 - which would be his country's highest ranking behind Bernard Tomic's No 49 - when the ATP releases its next update on Monday.

The 23-year-old Aussie underdog surprised everybody but himself in Shanghai.

"For me, I guess it's something that's been planned. I've expected it to happen in stages. It is ironic," Ebden said of his landmark performance in the eastern Chinese city.

"When I sat down with my team years ago, planning out the steps I'd have to take in my career when I am about 22 to 23, this would be the time that I wanted to be maybe 50 in the world or something.

"On a paper graph we might have set some plans and goals. I've been sort of slowly knocking off the things one by one. It's finally starting to pay off," Ebden said after sending eighth seed Gilles Simon packing in third round.

Born in Durban, South Africa, to a sports-mad family, Ebden picked up a racquet at the age of five, inspired by his father, Charles, and sisters Tarryn and Candice, who were all elite tennis players in South Africa before the family moved to Perth, Australia, in 1995.

After graduating from the prestigious Hale School in 2005, Ebden started to compete on the ITF Futures tour and tentatively tried out at some ATP tour qualifiers. Claiming three of the last four Futures titles in 2009, Ebden raised his goals.

His performance in Shanghai followed a stellar opening this year in which he reached the quarters of the Brisbane International, losing to then world No 5 Robin Soderling, before exiting in the first round of Australian Open.

Last week, in Tokyo, Ebden also played some quality tennis when he surged through qualifying before losing to David Ferrer in the second round.

"I can hit the ball and beat these guys who are right up there. Sometimes it's not always about the way you hit the ball, it's a little bit about if you can stay calm, collected, get the most out of yourself. It sort of helps me play to my potential a little bit," Ebden said.

Ebden's manager, Sam Maxwell, said Shanghai was an outstanding result for his charge, but insisted the player would not be content with just improving his ranking.

"Obviously, it's a great result and it's a testament to Matt for all his hard work over a long period," Maxwell said. "But Matt's an individual who strives for excellence and he is far from content to just break into the top 100. He's shown he's there and he can compete against the best guys in the world. He now needs to do that on a weekly basis."

With his rocketing rankings, Ebden is certain to make his third appearance at Melbourne Park barring injuries.

"Obviously, the Australian Open is only a few months away. Matt's played there the past two years and the Australian public wants to start seeing our players perform well at our event and not simply make up the numbers and I know Matt is committed to doing that," Maxwell said.