Thanasi Kokkinakis serves in his first round match against Igor Sijsling of the Netherlands during day two of the 2014 Australian Open. Picture: Michael Dodge. Source: Getty Images
AS the elder statesman bid farewell, the future of Australian tennis was arriving in the form of Thanasi Kokkinakis just a couple of courts away.
While Lleyton Hewitt’s Australian Open ended on Rod Laver Arena, across the way on show court 3 the 17-year-old South Australian was producing a Hewitt-like performance to register a remarkable career breakthrough.
Battling cramp for most of the final set, Kokkinakis fought through the pain to defeat Dutchman Igor Sijsling 7-6 (4) 0-6 7-6 (3) 6-2.
His victory completed a landmark day for the new generation with his good friend Nick Kyrgios also progressing after a hard-fought victory over Germany’s Benjamin Becker.
Kokkinakis, a wildcard entrant and the youngest player in the men’s field, was only playing the second top level match of his career.
His first was in Brisbane a fortnight ago where he won a spot in the main draw through qualifying and was then defeated in the opening round by Hewitt.
Sijsling started an overwhelming favourite in the match given he is ranked No. 73 in the world but he couldn’t capitalise even when his younger opponent was hurting.
Kokkinakis started to experience problems with his calf early in the fourth set and he could barely move at times yet somehow raced to a 3-0 lead.
The cramp started to move further up his leg later in the set but Kokkinankis held his nerve and easily broke Sijsling’s serve to take out the victory in just over three hours.
The South Australian teen said he enjoyed the support from friends and Aussie tennis fans.
“I’m very excited. I had a fair few of my close mates all around,” he said.
“I was trying to pick them out. When I kind of high fived my mates everyone else had their hand out, so I went around with it. It was good fun.”
He admitted that he just managed to “hang in there” when the cramp set in.
“I don’t actually know (how I got through) because, I mean, I started to feel it really early, maybe 5 6 in the third set,” he said.
“I was like, ‘Oh, this ain’t going to end too well’. I just tried to make returns.
“I think he got a little tighter thinking what’s down the other end.
“I was trying to hang in there and try to find the cheap points.
“I was shortening the points as much as I could, because when it was going for a while I wasn’t having much success.
“I broke him early in the fourth, which he should have won that game. Somehow I came up with it. Kind of just tried to keep my serve.”
He said he was sorry that some Aussies bowed out on day two but was optimistic about the state of the game.
“It’s good for Australian tennis to have me and Nick (Kyrgios) through. Unfortunately Lleyton and Bernie obviously didn’t get up.
“But, I mean, Matty (Ebden) is still in. James (Duckworth) I felt put in a good effort against Federer.
“So I think Australian tennis is on the up. Yeah, I know, it’s exciting stuff.”