Kokkinakis Focused, Taking Advantage Of His Adelaide Opportunities

Thanasi Kokkinakis (photo: David Mariuz / Tennis Australia)

ADELAIDE/WASHINGTON, January 11, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Thanasi Kokkinakis admitted after his first-round victory against the unpredictable and sometimes volatile Benoit Paire at the ATP 250 Adelaide International 2 Tuesday evening that it’s important to stay focused regardless of whom the opponent is.

“I think when you know someone like Benoit and how he kind of plays, he can kind of turn it on at any time, then he can kind of good off at times,” the 17st-ranked Australian wild card said after his 70-minute 6-4, 6-0 victory over No. 46 Paire from France, his fourth win in five matches this season.

“Obviously, he’s got an unbelievably high top level when he’s on. He has had some good results, especially back at the end of last year. I tried to take care of my serve. Usually, where I’m the one going for winners and going for these big shots, against someone like that you might want to try to cut down unforced errors, be a bit more solid and a bit smarter.”

The 25-year-old Adelaide native, who is playing in his second straight tournament in his home town, fired 11 aces and lost just two of his first-serve points in advancing to the second round.

“The body felt all right physically,” the oft-injured Kokkinakis said of his recovery after losing in the semifinal round of the Adelaide International 1 on Saturday. “I didn’t want to pass up another opportunity for a wild card, to play in my home city with this crowd. I know how rare playing tour events was for me last year. I thought if my body was all right, mentally I have to get to a point where I’m ready to play and go from there.”

Indeed, after appearing in just four ATP Tour main draws last year, Kokkinakis spent much of 2021 playing on the Challenger Tour circuit. He won a tournament on at Biella, Italy in May, and reached the final in Sibiu, Romania in September, both on clay. In all competitions, he went 33-21.

On Wednesday, Kokkinakis will face 24th-ranked, big-serving John Isner of the United States, who is seeded second behind No. 1 seed Gaël Monfils of France. Monfils won the Adelaide International 1 on Sunday.

“It’s tough to really have too many tactics against someone like John,” Kokkinakis admitted. “The one tactic is try to break as much as you can. If you get a chance, which is few and far between, you have to try to take it, see what you can do.

“Sometimes, it feels like you’re a passenger in matches [against him]. I have only played an exhibition match with him, but I have practiced with him before.

“Obviously, I have to try to get in as many neutral rallies as possible. It is a lot easier said than done with someone like that.”

Kokkinakis was asked during his press conference after beating Paire what he wanted to get out of this week with the start of the Australian Open looming just a few days away. He said: “Just try and approach every match with good intensity, go through my routines, warm up well, recover well. Everything. We had a lot of training back end of off-season. This is what you get ready for, matches. It’s another tour event, another chance to see what I can do.

“It’s kind of a win-win [situation] now, honestly, for me this week,” Kokkinakis added. “If I win, perfect. I am in the tournament, get another match here. If I lose, that’s fine. I get to Melbourne and I can recover and play, and hopefully get ready for my first round.

“Yeah, for sure, I’m going to try to do as well as I can here.”

• Elsewhere, South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon saved a second-set match point en route to his 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 win over No. 5 seed Lloyd Harris of South Africa, ranked 31st, that lasted two hours and 21 minutes. Next, the No. 53 Kwon will face No. 58 Arthur Rinderknech of France in the second round.

Also, No. 8 seed Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, ranked 40th, defeated No. 57 Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, 6-3, 7-6 (4), in an hour and 53 minutes to advance against 92nd-ranked French qualifier Corentin Moutet, who saved seven of the eight break points he faced against No. 51 Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany during his 88-minute 6-2, 6-4 win. Italy’s Gianluca Mager, ranked 62nd, defeated No. 113 Egor Gerasimov of Belarus, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, in one hour and 56 minutes to advance against No. 3 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, ranked 29th, who was the runner up in Sunday’s Adelaide International 1 final.

Others advancing to second round: 89th-ranked lucky loser Thiago Monteiro of Brazil, who defeated 81st-ranked Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4; 85th-ranked American qualifier Steve Johnson, who defeated 137th-ranked wild card Alex Bolt of Australia, 6-4, 6-4, and No. 64 Benjamin Bonzi of France, who eliminated 79th-ranked lucky loser Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, 6-3, 6-3.

Murray earns first Australia win in three years

In his Sydney debut and second match of the young season, Andy Murray garnered his first win in Australia in three years at the Sydney Tennis Classic Tuesday evening.

The 134th-ranked Murray, who lost his season-opening match to Facundo Bagnis of Argentina in last week’s Melbourne Summer Set at Melbourne Park, bounced back nicely to beat Norwegian qualifier Viktor Durasovic, 6-3, 6-1, in 73 minutes inside Ken Rosewall Arena. It was the wild card Murray’s second career win against No. 345 Durasovic following a victory at last year’s Stockholm Open.

Typically, Murray takes the week off before the Australian Open, where he has been a five-time finalist, but this year wanted to get in more matches. Also, to everyone’s surprise, Murray had never played before in Sydney and Tuesday was his first victory in Australia since beating James Duckworth at Brisbane in January 2019.

“It is my first time in Sydney and it’s a beautiful city,” Murray said during an on-court interview after his win. “I have been on the Tour for a very long time and it is nice to come to new places and I had heard a lot about it and it hasn’t disappointed.”

The former World No. 1 showed great consistency in his baseline attack and hit his flat backhands effectively with power. He won all but one of his first-serve points. However, it was a forehand winner past Durasovic, which clinched the victory and advanced Murray to play No. 2 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia on Wednesday. Murray defeated Basilashvili, 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, in the first round at Wimbledon last year.

“I thought I did pretty well,” Murray said during his post-match press conference. “It’s a nice court to play on. It kind of feels like you’re playing indoors. So, you know, everything is kind of perfect conditions to play.

“Obviously, I knew Durasovic, having played him in Stockholm a few weeks ago [at the Stockholm Open]. … I wanted to come out and get off to a quick start and managed to do that.”

Murray was asked if he brings a brand new mindset when he starts a new season. “I guess, like, for me this year coming to Australia feels kind of a bit special, because I just got told that [it] was the first match I had won here in like over a thousand days,” he said. “I have had a lot of issues and gone through a lot to get back here, and was really disappointed to miss it last year with getting COVID but was also feeling totally fine when the tournament was going on and I was competing elsewhere.

“Obviously, I waned to come here this year and perform well. I got here nice and early to prep. Yeah, this feels like the start of an important year for me.”

• Elsewhere, No. 68 Brandon Nakashima hit 12 aces and did not face any break points as he won his first match in Australia with his 7-6 (2), 7-6 (0) victory over 83rd-ranked Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely. The victory advanced Nakashima to face No. 7 seed Fabio Fognini of Italy, ranked 37th, in the second round.

In a matchup of qualifiers, No. 99 Sebastian Baez of Argentina beat No. 175 Christopher O’Connell of Australia, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (4), for his first win of the season. Next, Baez will play No. 5 seed Lorenzo Sonego of Italy, ranked 27th.

Meanwhile, No. 6 seed Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, ranked 33rd, earned a one-hour and 39-minute victory over No. 50 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain, 7-6 (5), 6-4, while No. 60 Pedro Martinez of Spain defeated No. 61 Alexei Popyrin of Australia, 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 33 minutes to advance against No. 3 seed Dan Evans of Great Britain, ranked 25th. Also, No. 75 Maxime Cressy of the United States defeated France’s 70th-ranked Adrian Mannarino, 6-3, 7-5, and will play Lajovic in the next round.

Also advancing to the second round: 105th-ranked lucky loser Denis Kudla of the United States defeated No. 44 Federico Delbonis of Argentina, 6-3, 6-1; and No. 69 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia beat 78th-ranked Italian lucky loser Stefanos Travaglia, 6-2, 6-3.

By the numbers

Soon woo Kwon of South Korea, who saved a match point and upset No. 5 seed Lloyd Harris 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 in the first round of the Adelaide International 2 on Tuesday, won the ATP 250 tournament at Nur-Sultan in 2021 to become the second South Korean man to capture a tour-level crown in the Open Era, after 2003 Sydney champion Hyung-Taik Lee.

“Quotable …”

“I think I inspire myself from Rafa. I was impressed by his attitude and his dedication to always be prepared, and no matter what, be very vigilant. I think I’m inspiring myself from him and to be always disciplined. Everyone is good and everyone can play well, and I always have to play my best tennis of the day.”

Maxime Cressy of the United States, who lost to Rafael Nadal in the final of the ATP 250 Melbourne Summer Set on Sunday. By reaching the final, Cressy’s world ranking rose from 112th to 75th.