Aussies de Minaur, Hijikata get wins ahead of Australian Open

TOP-RANKED Australian male Alex de Minaur has carried his strong form from the United Cup to Melbourne, defeating Dominic Thiem 6-4 6-4 in the Kooyong Classic opener on Tuesday.

De Minaur has repeatedly spoken about his love for playing in front of his home crowd and representing his country, and, donning the green and gold, he looked like a player ready to build on his fourth round appearance at Melbourne Park last year.

A forehand passing shot from two metres behind the baseline to give him the decisive first set break was emblematic of the effort he brought and his peak physical condition one week out from the major.

The result against the 2020 US Open champion means four of de Minaur’s last five wins have now been over Grand Slam champions. That list includes victories over Daniil Medvedev, Marin Cilic, Rafael Nadal and Thiem; Cilic the only player he had beaten prior to that run.

The 23-year-old blended his typically staunch defence with some powerful shots inside the baseline and took the opportunity to come forward when the opportunity presented.

It was the popular Austrian who had the first break point opportunities of the match, but de Minaur’s serving set him up on each occasion to get him out of trouble.

De Minaur capitalised on three Thiem unforced errors the following game, able to maintain the break for the rest of the set despite needing six set points in a testing final game. Four of the first six games of the second set were won by the receiver, neither player looking particularly convincing on their serve.

Two soft breaks on the de Minaur serves were about the only hiccups in a strong performance where he was more consistent than Thiem and played the big points better. De Minaur’s break in the ninth game of the second set, though, was the one that mattered, giving him a chance to serve for the match, which he did with little trouble.

The Aussie spoke on Monday about wanting to get as much match practice as possible this week, and he spent just over 90 minutes on court.

“I think I have always had it in me at this level, it was great to get that confirmation by beating Rafa a couple of days ago so it’s always good to have that in the back of your head when you’re going into a slam,” de Minaur said post-match.

“There’s my level, now it’s about bringing it at the Aussie Open.”

Thiem has been as high as number three in the world in 2020 but spent last season on the comeback trail from a nasty wrist injury, falling as low as world number 352 in June.

He currently sits 99th in the world, and he has been awarded a wildcard for next week’s Australian Open, a tournament he made the final of in 2020.

World number one Carlos Alcaraz’s withdrawal from Kooyong gave Thiem the opportunity to get some match time under his belt this week after going down in last week’s Adelaide International qualifying.

The 29-year-old showed glimpses of his blistering best, playing with confidence despite not having the consistency he does on his groundstrokes when at the top of his game.

“The body is good, last year was a good step in a good direction and I just hope I can continue it this year and hopefully the Australian Open is a good start,” Thiem said.

“I am ready to go into a grand slam, I don’t know how good I am at the moment, it’s very difficult to go deep in a slam, all the players are on a high-level but we’ll see, I had a good preparation, I should be ready and we’ll see how the first matches go… I did good work last year in preparation towards this grand slam to at least have the chance to (do) some damage.”


Grigor Dimitrov defeated Borna Coric 7-6 7-6

World number 29 Grigor Dimitrov was too good in a couple of decisive points in consecutive tiebreak sets against Croatian Borna Coric.

Coric netted a forehand in the first set to gift his opponent a mini-break, which he capitalised on, while consecutive winners midway through the second set tiebreaker proved the difference. The Croatian has become a staple at recent Kooyong Classic events; the world number 23 said it was an ideal way to get match practice as he prefers not to play a tournament the week before a Grand Slam event.

On the comeback trail from injury, Coric won his maiden Master’s 1000 title in Cincinatti last August, a run which included victories over Stefanos Tsitsipas, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Rafael Nadal. He will be looking to build on that return to form in 2023.

“I need to stay healthy, I have never been able to do that, (so) that’s my number one goal,” Coric said post-match. “I was just spending more time on court (in preseason) because I felt in very good shape which allowed me to (spend more time) on the court.

“I play my best tennis when I have just enough matches under my belt and I need those situations and I need to feel the pressure, I need to know what it is like to stay on court for two or three hours, so this is a great opportunity for me to test my body and tennis and see in the next couple of days what I need to work on.”

Donna Vekic defeated Linda Fruhvirtova 6-4 6-3

Donna Vekic got an early break against Czech Linda Fruhvirtova and she maintained that throughout the first set.  The players traded breaks to open the second set, and a subsequent break of serve to Vekic allowed her to run away with the match.

An injury timeout to Fruhvirtova, just 17 years-old, gave a lucky ballkid the opportunity to hit with Vekic for several minutes midway through the first set.

Rinky Hijikata defeated Zhizhen Zhang 6-1- 7-6

Rising Aussie Rinky Hijikata took care of world number 97 Zhizhen Zhang 6-1 7-6 in the final match of the afternoon. Hijikata, who last week won two matches in Adelaide, was clinical in the first set, winning the first four games against a nervous Zhang, punishing poor serving and hitting winners frequently.

Zhang made much more of a fist of it in the second set, taking it to a tiebreaker, but Hijikata won six of the first eight points to give himself a swag of match points. There were some lapses expected of a sub-100 ranked player, but there were more glimpses synonymous with an emerging talent.

Hijikata is currently ranked 169 in the world and received a wildcard into the Australian Open, which will be his second Grand Slam tournament after taking a set off Nadal in the first round of last year’s US Open.

“It was a lot of fun out there, it was my first time playing at Kooyong, it’s such a great court to play on, the atmosphere was a lot of fun out there today and it’s important to get some reps in, I didn’t have the week I would have liked in Adelaide so to get some matches in here is priceless,” Hijikata said post match.

“I’m really looking forward to coming out here tomorrow and then hopefully I can keep building for next week and then have a run for the Aussie hopefully.

Tomorrow’s  action kicks off with Thiem taking on affable American Frances Tiafoe at 11am, with Sir Andy Murray and Aussie Kimberly Birrell also in action.

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