Kokkinakis and Kyrgios caught the nation’s attention with their stunning doubles title run at Melbourne Park, especially with the exuberant way they did it.
“Last year was something we didn’t expect,” said Kokkinakis.
“I remember after every game we’ve won, people would text me saying, ‘You’re going to win this thing,’ and I was like, ‘No, somebody’s going to beat us. We will definitely lose against a double team.
“From the quarter-finals it became possible, a legitimate thought: ‘We can be better than these guys; We can win’… [but] If I said I expected to support it, I’d be lying.”
Kokkinakis believes he’s playing better than he did this time last year – when he landed in Melbourne fresh from his maiden ATP Tour title in Adelaide – and is hoping to prove it after a disappointing first-round loss in 2022.
Some fans even resorted to sledding him from the stands as he struggled to gain a foothold in the game.
“In the beginning, of course, there was only jubilation. Then, when things weren’t going too well, I smoked a bit. It’s just part of the game,” said Kokkinakis.
“You kind of expect it after the crowd had a few too many later in the day. [It is] nothing personal – just some rowdy fans trying. It’s good.”
‘My Deepest Ebb’: Aussie rising star on what horror season taught him
Once upon a time, Alexei Popyrin would have known that American star Taylor Fritz was almost certainly waiting for him in the second round of the Australian Open.
But that was old Popyrin, the one who scraped together just five Main Tour wins last year in a horror follow-up season to his first ATP title and matched his career high of No. 59.
The 2017 French Open junior champion even hoped he could end it in early 2022 by challenging Nick Kyrgios and Alex de Minaur for Australia’s No. 1.
Twelve months later, the year from hell has humiliated Popyrin, who admits he was way ahead of himself and made a litany of mistakes on and off the pitch that led to his fall from grace.
He starts the Open ranked 113th in the world and since October with a new coach, former Belgian top-20 player Xavier Malisse, and a mostly fresh team around him.
A quarter-final appearance in Adelaide last week after qualifying, including a titanic surprise from Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in sixth place, was evidence, Popyrin said, that things were turning.
“We [he and Malisse] started working together when I was probably at rock bottom. I was out of the top 100 in March, then I got back in the top 100, and in October I was out of the top 100 again,” Popyrin said.
“That was a really big problem for me… I went into American swing thinking I could at least win some Playing on the ATP Tour and I got into the main draw of some 250s and 500s in Tokyo and I couldn’t do anything – I couldn’t even play good tennis.
“First thing he noticed [was my] negative attitude, which was understandable given the year I’ve had, but that was the first thing, and in practice I was pretty negative too.
“I didn’t play the kind of tennis that I was capable of and that was really frustrating even though I tried to do everything I could to get there.”
Malisse has made it his mission to be Popyrin’s positivity champion, showering the 23-year-old with every inspirational video or quote he can find on Instagram.
The young Australian is also taking responsibility for changing things, starting with his first-round rematch with Tseng Chun-hsin, also known as ‘Jason’, after winning their duel at the US Open last year.
When asked if he knew about the possible Fritz match, Popyrin replied, “You just told me.”
Popyrin defeated Tseng 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3) in New York but is skeptical about the challenge presented by his fellow junior. Something he said he didn’t get was pressure.
“Honestly, no. I don’t feel any pressure because I have no points to defend, so my ranking can’t really go down any further than it already is,” said Popyrin.
“I remember thinking back in October 2021 about the points I had to defend in February – and I can’t do that… and probably won’t do it again.
“But right now I don’t feel any pressure at all to get into this AO coming up earlier this year. I feel like I have a clean slate and can play my tennis, play freely and hopefully improve my rankings.
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https://www.smh.com.au/sport/tennis/kokkinakis-on-kyrgios-nick-s-no-saint-but-can-be-unfairly-targeted-20230115-p5ccmw.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_sport Kokkinakis says Kyrgios is not a saint