Davis Cup: Kokkinakis to make live singles debut
Rising tennis teen Thanasi Kokkinakis will lead Australia's Davis Cup side into battle in the Czech Republic after newly-appointed captain Wally Masur pulled a selection surprise.
Rising tennis teen Thanasi Kokkinakis will lead Australia’s Davis Cup side into battle in the Czech Republic after newly-appointed captain Wally Masur pulled a selection surprise.
In a further sign of a changing of the guard within Australia tennis, 18-year-old Kokkinakis will open the nation’s 2015 World Group campaign in singles against a Czech team missing big gun Tomas Berdych, with veteran Lleyton Hewitt saved for Saturday’s doubles.
World No.135 Kokkinakis, who only earned a call-up to the squad after Nick Kyrgios withdrew with injury, will face Czech No.1 Lukas Rosol in the opening singles rubber of the best-of-five tie on Friday before Australian spearhead Bernard Tomic takes on fellow young gun Jiri Vesely.
Hewitt will team up with Sam Groth for what is likely to be a crucial doubles rubber on Saturday with Masur putting faith in the inexperienced Kokkinakis as part of a strategy to manage the squad’s workload.
“It’s really a decision made on the tie in its entirely,” said Masur, who will hold the captaincy until Hewitt retires from playing next year.
“There wasn’t much in it to be honest – all three of the other guys could have played the second singles spot behind Bernie.
“Everyone has been hitting the ball really well but I just keep going back to sharing the workload over three days.”
Kokkinakis got a taste of World Group action when he lost a dead singles rubber in Australia’s first-round 5-0 loss away to France last year.
And he’s not daunted by the prospect of contesting his first live match in front of a parochial Czech crowd at Cez Arena.
“It’s a really important (match) but I’ve been training and playing well over the last few weeks and I really can’t wait to get out there,” Kokkinakis said.
Hewitt will miss the opening-day singles for only the third time in his decorated 17-year Davis Cup career, but both he and Groth could be considered for Sunday’s reverse singles.
While the Czechs named Jan Mertl and Adam Pavlasek for the doubles, Australia expect the 2012 and 2013 champions will play their strongest players, Rosol and Vesely, in a move that could give Masur’s side a final-day fitness edge.
“We see it (the doubles) as a really vital point in this tie,” 34-year-old Hewitt said.
Australia, 28-time champions, are chasing their first victory in the competition’s top tier since 2006, having ended a long wait to return to the top 16 last year.
A win would set up a home quarterfinal against either Italy or Kazakhstan in July.