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Young guns Kyrgios and Kokkinakis are clay pigeons at French Open

Novak Djokovic says 19-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis, 20-year-old Nick Kyrgios and Croatian 18-year-old Borna Coric, who also made the third round at Paris, are serious contenders for major titles.
Nick Kyrgios of Australia finds the  next round of the French Open is just out of his reach against Andy Murray, but according to the Briton, and Novak Djokovic, the future is bright for the 20-year-old Kyrgios as well as fellow upcomers Borna Coric, 18, and 19-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis. ‘I think it is quite refreshing,’ Djokovic says. Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters
Nick Kyrgios of Australia finds the next round of the French Open is just out of his reach against Andy Murray, but according to the Briton, and Novak Djokovic, the future is bright for the 20-year-old Kyrgios as well as fellow upcomers Borna Coric, 18, and 19-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis. ‘I think it is quite refreshing,’ Djokovic says. Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters

When Nick Kyrgios was making history with his stunning Wimbledon win over Rafael Nadal last year, Thanasi Kokkinakis was losing a first-round match in the wilds of the American state of Illinois.

Almost 12 months on, 19-year-old Kokkinakis is in the world top 100 and was yesterday mixing it with the No 1 on that list, Novak Djokovic, at the French Open.

The Australian may have been swept aside by the top seed 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, but the teenager said he is on the right track.

“I don’t think I need to change too much what I’m doing. I think I’m on a good path,” said Kokkinakis, who was playing in the third round of a grand slam tournament for the first time.

He said that Kyrgios, just a year older at 20, is an inspiration, especially after his compatriot stunned Nadal at Wimbledon on his way to the last eight.

Kyrgios was 19 and ranked 144th.

At the same time, Kokkinakis was getting beaten by Farrukh Dustov in the first round of a second-tier Challenger event at Winnetka, a small town just north of Chicago best known for its location in the Home Alone movie franchise. “I was like, wow, what am I doing?,” said Kokkinakis of Kyrgios’s win.

“I had a look at it and I worked hard to put myself in these positions to play the greatest players on big courts.”

Despite yesterday’s defeat against the world No 1, in a match where he failed to carve out a break point, Kokkinakis said he learnt valuable lessons that will stand him in good stead with the grass-court season and Wimbledon approaching.

“He (Djokovic) makes so many balls. He covers the court so well. He doesn’t really play very high-risk tennis,” Kokkinakis said.

“For me as well to beat someone like that, you have to play winners or go for your shots, and maybe I pressed a little bit too much. But as I get stronger and fitter, I won’t have to go for as many winners against him.”

Djokovic said Kokkinakis, Kyrgios and Croatian 18-year-old Borna Coric, who also made the third round at Paris, are serious contenders for major titles.

“Tennis needs players like Thanasi, who is a teenager but is still able to come out on centre court and play with courage and play with power, and believe in himself,” Djokovic said.

“We didn’t have that many young successful players under 20 in the past six, seven years, so I think it’s quite refreshing.”

Time is certainly on the side of Kokkinakis and Kyrgios.

Nadal was 19 when he won his first major at the French Open in 2005 and Djokovic was 20 at the time of his 2008 Australian Open breakthrough, but it took Roger Federer until he was almost 22 to clinch his first Wimbledon in 2003. Murray was 25 when he lifted the US Open in 2012.

“For a few years people were saying, ‘oh, now the game is so physical you can’t break through until you’re 20, 21 year olds’,” said Murray after his 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win yesterday over Kyrgios. “But the reality was it was just a period where juniors weren’t as good, and now you see some great young players coming through that are going to be top of the game for a long time.”

Kyrgios’s hopes of an upset against Murray were undermined by a right elbow injury that caused an issue in his serving power. It was another worrying physical setback for a player who had back and foot injuries after his run to the Australian Open quarter-finals in January.

Even Djokovic once went through similar growing pains, retiring injured from the 2005 and 2006 French Opens, 2007 Wimbledon and 2009 US Open.

“Andy is a freak athlete,” Kyrgios said. “He’s strong. I think that’s how he has his advantage when he plays.”

KVITOVA FINDS HER FORM TO POWER THROUGH TO LAST-16

Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova powered into the last 16 at the French Open on Saturday, finally finding her form after earlier struggles at Roland Garros.

The fourth seed from the Czech Republic outplayed Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3, 6-2 in just 58 minutes, taking the last five games at a canter.

That was in stark contrast to her first two rounds that saw her grind out six sets and spend just four minutes short of five hours on the court.

“I think it was for sure the best match which I played here so far, so I’m really glad for it,” Kvitova said.

“I’m glad that I didn’t forget many things from my game and it’s still there. I felt better today, for sure. It’s the third round which I didn’t pass here last year, so I was really motivated by it.”

Next up for Kvitova, who also won Wimbledon in 2011, but who has only managed a single semi-final in Paris in 2012, will be a fourth round tie against Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland who upset 16th seeded American Madison Keys 6-4, 6-2.

Also through to the last 16 in early play was Italian Sara Errani, losing finalist in 2012, who gained revenge on Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-3, 6-3.

Petkovic ousted Errani at Roland Garros last year at the quarter-final stage before losing in the semis.

There was disappointment though for another Italian, 2010 Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone losing 7-5, 6-4 to Andreea Mitu of Romania.

Ranked 100th in the world, Mitu is playing in her first French Open and her three wins in Paris this week were her first at Grand Slam level.

Her next opponent, with a quarter-final slot at stake will be 93rd-ranked Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium, who ended the hopes of France’s Kristina Mladenovic 6-4, 6-1.

Van Uytvanck was 1-5 in Grand Slam matches coming into Roland Garros, but like Mitu she has been able to benefit in her quarter of the draw from the first round defeat of sixth seed Eugenie Bouchard at the hands of Mladenovic.

“It was not easy because she is a very good player and I was very nervous in the beginning,” Van Uytvanck said.

“It’s a big dream come true. I was happy enough winning in the first round and now being in the fourth round I can’t believe it.

“Maybe I am the favourite in the fourth round. I think she (Mitu) is very confident. She’s a solid player. She is a big hitter. We have nothing to lose.”

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Updated: May 30, 2015 04:00 AM

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