PARIS (Reuters) - Australian men’s tennis relied too heavily for years on former world number one Lleyton Hewitt but suddenly the traditional heavyweight nation in the sport is awash with young trail-blazers.
Nick Kyrgios, 20, has already broken through, reaching the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year after taking out Rafa Nadal and now 19-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis is threatening to do the same at the French Open.
On Thursday he beat compatriot Bernard Tomic, still Australia’s number one and only 22 himself but in danger of being overshadowed by the brash new wave.
Kokkinakis came back from two sets down to beat 27th seed Tomic, saving three match points before prevailing 3-6 3-6 6-3 6-4 8-6 on a jam-packed Court Sevenat Roland Garros.
With a sore hip following a fall, he trailed 5-2 and 15-40 in the deciding set, but pulled out an ace and forced Tomic into a backhand error.
Another match point was saved with an ace and Kokkinakis then reeled Tomic in, broke him at 6-6 and held his nerve to serve for the match, falling on to his back in the red dust to celebrate reaching the third round where he will face world number one Novak Djokovic.
“Second time I have come back from two sets to love, and it was kind of good doing it against Bernie because he has gotten me twice this year,” Kokkinakis, who idolised former Russian showman Marat Safin as a kid, told reporters.
”I was going mental in the first two sets when I couldn’t take a break point. I don’t know what my conversion rate was, but it was driving me insane.
“I don’t think both of us were playing great tennis the first two, three sets. But eventually I kept hanging in there. I trusted my fitness and it paid off.”
With Kokkinakis up against Djokovic and Kyrgios facing world number three Andy Murray in the third round, Saturday promises to be a big day for Australian tennis.
“Obviously, he’s barely lost this year so it’s going to be a tough task for sure, but I‘m not going to change my game plan,” Kokkinakis said.
“I am going to try and do what I do well and hopefully it works against him.”
Editing by Ed Osmond