(Reuters) -Local Thanasi Kokkinakis opened his title defence at the Adelaide International 2 with a battling 6-0 6-7(5) 7-5 victory over Alexei Popyrin in an all-Australian clash on Monday.
Kokkinakis blew through the first set with little resistance from his compatriot, converting all three break points that came his way, but faltered in the tiebreaker of the second.
The crowd rallied behind their hometown hero towards the end of the match, and Kokkinakis responded by sending down five aces in the deciding set to secure victory.
“There’s a curse, I think a few players feel it, when you win a set 6-0, you know something’s bound to go bad,” Kokkinakis said in his on-court interview.
“It was almost going too smooth, so I knew there would be a tricky stage. I was being a bit of a softie for the end part of that match, but I got it together. The fans were unreal and I toughed it out in the end.”
Kokkinakis will next face Russian top seed Andrey Rublev, the world number eight, in the second round on Wednesday.
French journeyman Constant Lestienne wrote a small footnote in the history of men’s tennis on Monday when he won the first ATP Tour match in New Zealand for three years in the opening round of the Auckland Open.
Now an Australian Open warm-up, the Auckland Open had been played every year since 1956 until New Zealand’s lockdown in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2021 and 2022 editions.
Brushing off a hip issue that needed treatment in the first set, Lestienne wasted little time in dismissing Argentine Pedro Cachin 6-3 6-1 to take a place in the second round.
World number three Casper Ruud, the top seed, received a bye through the first round, as did local favourite Cam Norrie, the British world number 14, who was raised in New Zealand.
Norwegian Ruud could move to the top of the world rankings over the next three weeks in the absence of Carlos Alcaraz, who pulled out of the year’s first Grand Slam with a leg injury.
Belgium’s David Goffin beat Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan 6-3 6-4, breaking the big-serving fifth-seed on four occasions.
“I returned really well. We all know how well he can serve like 220kph which is not easy to return especially on these small courts with not a big space behind the baseline,” Goffin said.
“So the key was the return for sure and to try to stay calm.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, additional reporting by Aadi Nair; editing by Bradley Perrett)