Adelaide, Australia, 9 January 2023 | Vivienne Christie / Leigh Rogers

Thanasi Kokkinakis has made a statement start in the defence of his Adelaide International crown, the South Australian eliminating countryman Alexei Popyrin in a first round of extreme momentum swings.

In a maiden ATP-level meeting between the two Australian players, Kokkinakis took an authoritative lead in the near three-hour encounter, with his perfect first set secured in only 25 minutes.

But the hometown favourite was severely tested when Popyrin recovered to take control in the second set and pushed Kokkinakis in a hard-fought decider.

“There’s a curse, I think. A few players feel it, almost when you win a set six-love, you know something’s bound to go bad,” said a smiling Kokkinakis, after securing an eventual 6-0 6-7(5) 7-5 victory.

With his trademark serve and a potent forehand proving especially damaging, Kokkinakis seemed on track to seamlessly add to an impressive record in Adelaide when he held two break points in the sixth game of the second set.

But as each of those openings dissolved with groundstroke errors, Popyrin grew in confidence; neither player capitalised on break point opportunities – Kokkinakis saving four, Popyrin two – as the set progressed to a tiebreak.

Three aces helped Popyrin gain the ascendancy, the younger Australian sending the match into a decider after an hour and 38 minutes.

“It was almost too smooth, so I knew there could be a tricky stage,” Kokkinakis related, lamenting his missed break point opportunities.

A brief off-court break at first provided little respite for the local, who dropped serve in the opening game of the third set. Several games later, the home favourite recovered both energy and momentum; with the slightest dip from Popryin, he clawed the break back and consolidated to take a 4-3 lead.

From there, the pressure was on Popryin, especially as a more aggressive Kokkinakis dominated the rallies. As his first serve lapsed, the defending champion produced some exquisite winners that thrilled his hometown crowd.

While Kokkinakis held match point in a tense 10th game, it took another two games to secure victory. A beautiful forehand winner secured a second match point opportunity, Kokkinakis securing it on Popyrin error.

“I was being a bit of a softy in part of that match, but I got it together… I toughed it out in the end,” Kokkinakis admitted, acknowledging a huge effort from his fellow Australian, who is also a close friend.

“Alexei was great today.I knew he was going to lift his game. We share the same agent, so we know each other pretty well,” he commented.

“We’re good mates off the court and I don’t think being competitors on the court will change that.”

The tournament doesn’t get any easier for Kokkinakis, who faces No.1 seed Andrey Rublev – a former champion in Adelaide – in the second round.

“This feels stacked, both weeks are tough,” said the South Australian, acknowledging the tough men’s field in both Adelaide tournaments.

“It’s what you want though. It’s what you want going into a Grand Slam. I want to test myself against the best, I know when I’m playing my best, my level’s right there, so it’s about sustaining it and not having any of those dips.”

In other Australian performances in Adelaide, world No.20 Ekaterina Alexandrova proved too strong for Jaimee Fourlis in first-round women’s singles action, scoring a hard-fought 7-5 6-3 win.

In the final round of the men’s qualifying singles competition, John Millman claimed a 6-3 7-6(7) victory an all-Aussie showdown with Chris O’Connell.

There was some consolation for O’Connell, receiving a lucky-loser spot in the main draw.

The Adelaide International 2, a combined ATP 250 and WTA 500 event, is part of a two-week Adelaide Festival of Tennis. The festival concludes on 14 January.

> BUY NOW: Adelaide International tickets


Men’s qualifying singles, final round
John Millman (AUS) d [5] Chris O’Connell (AUS) 6-3 7-6(7)
[2] Mikael Ymer (SWE) d [8] Jordan Thompson (AUS) 7-6(4) 7-5

Women’s singles, first round
Ekaterina Alexandrova d [WC] Jaimee Fourlis (AUS) 7-5 6-3

Men’s singles, first round
[WC] Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) d [WC] Alexei Popyrin (AUS) 6-0 6-7(5) 7-5

Women’s doubles, first round
[1] Storm Hunter (AUS)/Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) d Anna Danilina (KAZ)/Sania Mirza (IND) 3-6 6-3 [10-6]
Sam Stosur (AUS)/Nicole Melichar-Martinez (USA) d [2] Gabriela Dabrowski (CAN)/Giuliana Olmos (MEX) 6-1 6-4

Men’s doubles, first round
John Peers (AUS)/Andreas Mies (GER) d Guillermo Duran (ARG)/Philipp Oswald (AUT) 7-6(2) 3-6 [10-6]

Women’s singles, first round
[WC] Storm Hunter (AUS) v Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU)

> VIEW: Full Adelaide International women’s singles draw

Men’s singles, first round
[WC] Jason Kubler (AUS) v [Q] Tomas Martin Etcheverry (ARG)
[Q] John Millman (AUS) v Albert Ramos-Vinolas (ESP)
[LL] Chris O’Connell (AUS) v [8] Tommy Paul (USA)

Men’s singles, second round
[WC] Thanasi Kokkiankis (AUS) v [1] Andrey Rublev

> VIEW: Full Adelaide International men’s singles draw

Women’s doubles, first round
[WC] Alana Parnaby (AUS)/Olivia Tjandramulia (AUS) v Alicja Rosolska (POL)/Erin Routliffe (NZL)

Women’s doubles, second round
[1] Storm Hunter (AUS)/Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) v TBC
Sam Stosur (AUS)/Nicole Melichar-Martinez (USA) v TBC

Men’s doubles, first round
[WC] Jeremy Beale (AUS)/Luke Saville (AUS) v Julian Cash (GBR)/Henry Patten (GBR)
[WC] Blake Ellis (AUS)/Andrew Harris (AUS) v Maxime Cressy (USA)/Albano Olivetti (FRA)

Men’s doubles, second round
[5] Matt Ebden (AUS)/Rohan Bopanna (IND) v TBC
John Peers (AUS)/Andreas Mies (GER) v [3] Ivan Dodig (CRO)/Austin Krajicek (USA)

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