Young Stars Shining in WSO Main Draw



2015 Main Draw

By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis is one of the rising young stars on the ATP World Tour, and his ascension continued on Monday night.

The 19-year-old from Australia provided the first upset of this year’s Winston-Salem Open as he pulled out a 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5) victory over Alexandr Dolgopolov in a rain-delayed match on Stadium Court.

Kokkinakis dominated the first-set tiebreaker, then had to go to another tiebreaker in the second set after letting a 4-1 lead slip away and then getting broken serving for the match at 5-4.

He might have caught Dolgopolov at the right time to earn the win, as Dolgopolov may have been drained after reaching the semifinals at Cincinnati last week. But he was pleased that he was able to stand up to Dolgopolov’s power game and play well on the big points.

“It was obviously going to be tricky,” Kokkinakis said. “I knew he was in good form. I wasn’t sure how he was going to come out here. He could have been tired. But I think he did well to come out and handle it. He was feeling it and hitting the ball hard and putting me on my toes. So I just tried to stick with him to the end and I played the big points when it mattered.”

Kokkinakis came to the Winston-Salem Open ranked No. 70 and has been as high as No. 68 this summer.

A 2013 US Open and Australian Open juniors finalist, he climbed more than 450 spots in 2014 to start this year at No. 150, and has continued to soar into the Top 100.

He made his first big splash by reaching the fourth round at Indian Wells, later won a Challenger in Bordeaux and reached the third round at Roland Garros.

Last week, he advanced through qualifying in Cincinnati and beat Fabio Fognini in the first round before losing to Richard Gasquet. So he now has two wins over Top 50 players in the past two weeks, and he’s looking for more.

“I think he’s playing well,” said Dolgopolov, who is ranked No. 39 in the latest ATP rankings out Monday. “He’s confident and he’s serving really big, so we’ll see how it goes for him. He’s already doing well. To be Top 100 at that age is good, and I think he’ll develop for sure. In a few years, he’s going to be growing, and it’s going to be interesting to see how he does.”

Kokkinakis isn’t lacking for confidence, that’s for sure.

“I’m trying to go as far as I can here,” Kokkinakis said. “That’s why I came here, to win as many matches against quality players going into the Open. Hopefully I’ll take every match at the Open. This surface is one of my favorites, so I think if I play well and stay focused I think I can do well in the Open.”

Kokkinakis wasn’t the only teenager to triumph on Monday. American 17-year-old Frances Tiafoe, who advanced through qualifying, recorded the first ATP World Tour Main Draw win of his career by fighting back for a 3-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) win over James Duckworth. A third teenager, 18-year-old Borna Coric, also fought back to earn a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 win over Santiago Giraldo.

Also on Monday night, Malek Jaziri beat Joao Souza 6-4, 6-3; Aljaz Bedene beat Marco Cecchinato 6-2, 6-2; Denis Istomin beat Donald Young 6-3, 6-3 and Pablo Carreno Busta beat Tommy Haas 6-3, 6-4.

The second-round matches pitting Sam Groth against Steve Johnson, Benoit Paire against Hyeon Chung and Diego Schwartzman against Pablo Andujar were postponed until Tuesday because of the rain delay.