Thanasi Kokkinakis delivers again and joins Alexei Popyrin in round two

“I don’t know why it happened, like four serves in a row. It felt a little strange, but I took some painkillers, got some treatment and it got better as I warmed up, so I’m glad it’s nothing too serious.”

They gave up just 10 points on serve in a lackluster opening set, with one of those in the tie-break giving Kokkinakis a deserved advantage after his blocked return gave him a short ball that he hammered past Cressy.

In a surprising turn of events, both players had to fend off break points to start the second set before Kokkinakis dropped serve in game five when the match suddenly headed for a deciding set.

Cressy led 5-3 in the second set but foot faults and double faults cost him big money that night but he still held a set point on serve in a faltering tiebreaker – but again failed to capitalize.

Kokkinakis had already lost two match points by this point but made no mistake on his third as he sealed the win with his 21st ace and set up a duel with either Jannik Sinner or Kyle Edmund on Wednesday.

“I obviously had an incredible summer last year, starting in Adelaide and then doubles [at the Australian Open] was the icing on the cake,” he said.

“But Adelaide week will definitely be my top moment forever. I hope that I can just work my ass off in every game to be honest.

“I can’t guarantee I can do it [what I did] last year, however [I will] play as hard as I can and then see where it takes me.”

Previously, Popyrin, who was 59th early last year but is now 120th, put on a powerful performance to beat Auger Aliassime and capture his first true top 10 scalp after a nightmare 2022 season.

It was technically his third top-10 win after toppling Stefanos Tsitsipas at the 2021 Paris Masters and Dominic Thiem at the 2019 Australian Open, but both men were eliminated before the finish.

Alexei Popyrin caused a big spill in Adelaide with a win over Felix Auger Aliassime.

Alexei Popyrin caused a big spill in Adelaide with a win over Felix Auger Aliassime.Credit:AP

Popyrin wants results like Auger Aliassime’s, in which he hit 11 aces and recovered from a 4-1 deficit in the second set, to become the norm after playing just five games in 22 in a bitterly disappointing season last year had won.

The 23-year-old has changed coaches twice in as many years and is hoping ex-Belgium player Xavier Malisse – who he has been working with since October – will fulfill his immense potential.

“It’s a really good win for me, especially after last season where I only had five wins at the track. It’s a very important win,” said Popyrin.

“I know I have the level to play against guys like that and today I proved it, so I’m happy [but] it’s not something I’m super pumped about.

“It’s something I expect from myself to be able to beat these players.”

Qualifying in Adelaide and receiving a wildcard for this year’s Australian Open, Popyrin was a standout junior, winning the 2017 French Open at this level while co-emerging with Alex de Minaur.

But while de Minaur had a largely smooth transition into the senior round, it was a bumpy road for Popyrin.

“There are few guys who can do it perfectly at such a young age,” he said.

“Everything was kind of great in 2021. I was 21, got my first ATP title, felt like I was in it, felt I could go higher.

“I even told my physio at the time that if I could get to week two of a slam I felt like I could go all the way. That was the confidence I had.

“Then things took a turn. I hired some people who probably weren’t the best for my game [but] I don’t want to talk about last year anymore. We’re just looking forward to this year.”

Popyrin meets American Marcos Giron next Wednesday, with compatriots Chris O’Connell, Jordan Thompson and Jaimee Fourlis leaving the event.

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https://www.smh.com.au/sport/tennis/kokkinakis-delivers-in-adelaide-again-to-be-second-aussie-to-advance-20230102-p5c9yc.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_sport Thanasi Kokkinakis delivers again and joins Alexei Popyrin in round two

Ryan Sederquist

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