Jason Kubler went from junior world number one to ATP outcast before rebuilding his career. After soaring through the junior ranks and emerging as a promising young star, injuries derailed Kubler’s rise to the top. His injury woes were so bad, he considered giving up the sport and began working as a coach. Now, Kubler is back and better than ever.
Kubler triumphed over almost insurmountable adversity earlier this week, progressing to the second round of the Australian Open for the first time in his career following a straight set victory over world no. 44 Sebastian Baez. The victory is Kubler’s first in the Australian Open, 13 years after he made his tournament debut as a 16-year-old.
The 29-year-old couldn’t back up his impressive play with another upset against 18th seed Karen Khachanov, eventually going down in four sets to the Russian. But for Kubler, getting this far was the breakthrough he needed. “I’m proud of myself. I wasn’t sure last year if I’d be in this sort of situation,” he said.
Kubler has endured countless hardships on his way to success. A combination of injury troubles and bad luck have prevented him from reaching the lofty expectations heaped upon him from an early age. If Kubler had wanted to call it quits when he was at his lowest, you couldn’t blame him. But it’s a good thing he didn’t.
This time last year, Kubler was ranked outside of the ATP’s top 200 players. A highlight-packed 2022 season and recent scintillating form have moved him all the way up to 84th in the world, a career-high. In 2022, Kubler won a main draw match at every grand slam except the Australian Open. His biggest achievement was an odds-defying run a Wimbledon, where he progressed to the fourth round as a qualifier.
Nick Kyrgios’ withdrawal from Australia’s United Cup team presented an opportunity for Kubler. The 29-year-old went undefeated during the tournament, with victories over two top 40 ranked players propelling him into the top 100. Kubler humbly thanked Kyrgios for the opportunity via a text, “I messaged him: ‘thank you so much for the opportunity’.” Kubler said. “He gave me the opportunity to play and I’ve sort of taken it with both hands and run with it.”
As a junior superstar, Kubler drew comparisons to the legendary Rafael Nadal. Nadal and Kubler are the only players who have gone undefeated in the World Youth Cup and Junior Davis Cup tournament’s, making comparisons inevitable. Kubler would go on to win six junior titles and would claim the combined junior world number one ranking for singles and doubles.
Poised to become the next big thing in tennis, Kubler’s career was curtailed by near-constant knee injuries. He had his first knee surgery when he was only 14. By the time he was 20, Kubler was exclusively playing clay court tournaments to protect his ailing knee’s. In 2016, another knee injury required an operation for the sixth time. Kubler then began an extended absence from tennis that would have ended most athletes’ careers.
Away from pro tennis and his only source of income for over a year, Kubler started coaching to make ends meet. He revealed his situation became so bad that he once had only 14 cents in his bank account. It was at this time that Kubler began contemplating giving up the sport altogether.
“When I was younger people would ask ‘why are you playing tennis?’ I was like ‘I’m good at it. I win a lot. That’s why I play,” Kubler told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2018. “Then maybe when I’m 18, 21 or 22, they’re like ‘why do you play?’ I’d be like ‘I don’t really have too much else.”
Money is no longer an issue. Just for making the second round of the Australian Open, Kubler will net a whopping $158,850 in prize money. For his run at Wimbledon last year, he made almost $350,000. If there’s a takeaway from this, it’s that tennis is a lucrative business. If you’re athletically inclined, pick up a racket.
Despite an early second round exit at the Australian Open, Kubler is happy just to be on the court regularly and free from injuries. “I’ve never really had an 18-month block where I’ve been injury-free,” he said. “I still feel like I’m improving. I still feel like I’m learning in situations.”
Kubler’s keeping his future goals at an achievable level, “My basic goals are kind of to keep getting in the main draw of the slams,” he said. “Right now, it’s just to be consistent, stay on court, stay healthy, stay fit and strong. At the moment I’m still sort of showing myself what I’m capable of.”