Red-hot Rinky tames Thanasi

NO MATTER the result, an Australian was going to be the winner as wildcard Rinky Hijikata took on Thanasi Kokkinakis on Show Court 1 at the Brisbane International. In a match that lasted an hour and 37 minutes, it was Hijikata who emerged victorious, shaking off an early Kokkinakis challenge to win 7-6 6-2.

Hijikata came in as the underdog having received the wildcard with Kokkinakis receiving automatic entry, but the 22-year-old’s form boosting his ranking up to 71, just six spots off his higher ranked opponent. When the pair was drawn as one of three all-Australian matches in the first round at Brisbane, it made easy watching for the home crowd.

Somehow, Hijikata managed to keep Kokkinakis at bay in the first set as the former top 30 player threatened to do some serious damage with his serve. Kokkinakis slammed home 12 aces, winning 79 and 50 per cent of his first and second serve points off a 77 per cent clip, practically making himself unbreakable.

Kokkinakis saved his only break point in that set, but unfortunately could not put Hijikata on the back foot either, with the Australian’s serving efficiency poor – just 49 per cent – but winning all bar two points off his first serve, and 59 per cent of his second serve points. It meant the set went to a tiebreak, which Hijikata pilled through in an epic, 10-8.

That seemed to give him confidence, while having the opposite effect for Kokkinakis. His aces dropped y 67 per cent down to just four, and though he still won 10 of 14 off his first serve, struggled when it got to his second serve (one of five). That opened the door for a couple of breaks for Hijikata who only won the nine points off Kokkinakis’ serve – while saving both break points against him and only dropping seven points on his own serve in a clinical performance.

Elsewhere in Brisbane, fellow Aussie wildcard Jason Kubler got through against Russian Aslan Karatsev in some bizarre scenes. Just after Karatsev levelled the match at a set apiece two hours and 23 minutes into the contest on Show Court 2, he twisted his knee and was forced to retire, allowing Kubler safe passage into the second round with a 6-4 6-7 result.

In the other all-Australian clash, Jordan Thompson defeated Aleksandar Vukic comfortably in 96 minutes, 6-3 6-2 to advance, as did qualifier James Duckworth who was too good for American J.J. Wolf, 6-3 6-4. The news was not as good for another Australian qualifier, Li Tu who bowed out to 56th ranked German Daniel Altmaier in two tiebreakers.

It was a reasonably good day for the qualifiers however with Czech Tomas Machac and Slovakian Lukas Klein both beating Argentinians in Tomas Etcheverry and Sebastian Baez respectively in three sets. German Yannick Hanfmann caused an upset over United States’ Sebastian Korda 7-5 6-4, while Italian Matteo Arnaldi knocked off Hungarian Marton Fucsovics in a three-hour and seven-minute epic, 6-7 6-4 7-6.

The most talked about match of the day was former Roland Garros opponents, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem battling it out. Nadal, now ranked outside the top 600 and returning from injury earned a wildcard to the event, while Thiem – having crept just inside the top 100 after long-term injury issues – had gone through qualifiers. After a highly entertaining first set, Nadal pulled away in the second to win 7-5 6-1 in a treat for the crowd in what was just a first round match of an ATP 250 event.


The second day of action at Hong Kong saw results largely go to play, with Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut and Italian Lorenzo Musetti both winning in straight sets. Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic and British qualifier Liam Broady also cruised through, while Austrian Sebastian Ofner destroyed talented American Mackenzie McDonald in 61 minutes, 6-1 6-2.

In the battle of the big servers, German Jan-Lennard Struff dusted off the cobwebs with a three-hour and six-minutes win over Croatian Marin Cilic, getting up 3-6 7-6 7-6 in a result that saw 31 aces and 16 double faults.

Meanwhile Frenchman Arthur Fils showed off his potential, with the 19-year-old defeating Borna Gojo in three sets, 6-3 4-6 6-1. In the other match, Switzerland’s Marc-Andrea Huesler accounted for fellow qualifier, Ukrainian Vitaliy Sachko in straight sets, 6-4 6-4.

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