Australian Open 2023: Thanasi Kokkinakis to embrace fans, last year horror show, Aussies in action

Thanasi Kokkinakis believes there won’t be another Australian Open horror show this year, and he has a concession about the fans.

A smarter and wiser Thanasi Kokkinakis says he will embrace the “crazy” Melbourne crowd as he seeks to avoid last year’s shock first-round exit.

The big-serving Aussie came into the 2022 Australian Open on a high after winning his first ATP title in Adelaide last year but then failed to fire a shot at Melbourne Park, losing in straight sets to German journeyman Yannick Hanfmann.

This year he has again had some promising Adelaide results – he lost the semi-final to world No.26 Roberto Bautista Agut – which included a victory over No.5 seed Andrey Rublev.

But Kokkinakis, 26, is confident there won’t be a repeat of last year’s horror show.

“I’m definitely up and about. I think I’ve got a bit more in me this time than I did last year,” he said.

“Although I won the tournament in Adelaide last year, I feel like I’m playing better tennis this time around. I’m really happy with my level going into it. I feel like both matches I lost in those two weeks I could have won.

“I’m happy with where I’m at and I’m ready to give it all on Tuesday.”

The world No.110 says he will learn from the mistakes of last year regarding his preparation for a first-round match-up with Italian veteran Fabio Fognini who he holds a 2-0 career record.

“I probably would have done a couple things differently last time,” Kokkinakis said. “I took a whole day off last time instead of maybe going on the courts, trying to train the day before I play.

“Now I’ve got a few days. I’m motivated. There’s a silver lining, I still wouldn’t have changed it for anything, winning that title last year in Adelaide but this year I come in a little fresher, a couple more days up my sleeve to get used to it.

“I’m all focused for Tuesday.”

He revealed he didn’t handle the fanatical crowd which greeted him last year and had plans in place to embrace the hometown momentum this time around.

“It was crazy last year,” Kokkinakis said. “I know it’s going to be a crazy atmosphere (on Tuesday). At least I think I know what to expect this time around.

“Last year was something. I was expecting it to be loud, but I wasn’t expecting it to be like that. That was crazy.

“I think I’m ready for it this time around. I’m mentally in a good spot. I’m going to lap it up. Last year I was trying to kind of combat the crowd a little bit by kind of being relaxed and trying to focus on myself. I don’t think I brought enough energy.

“This time, you don’t want to take it for granted, I’m going to leave it all out there.”

Kokkinakis, who won the Australian Open doubles title with Nick Kyrgios last year, says he is aiming to break into the top 50 this year.

He has a career-high singles ranking of 69 which he set in 2015 and then equalled it last year.

“I want to reach my career high again,” Kokkinakis said. “I was able to do it last year, for the first time in seven years. I don’t know if that’s happened before, someone reaches their career high and then hits it again seven years later.

“I don’t know how I fell on the exact same number, it’s pretty unlucky. I’m going to try and beat that. My goal is to try and win another title this year. I want to try to break into the top 50.

“I just want to be healthy and keep playing and improve my game. If I do that, then I think the ranking will follow.”

Open schedule: Every Aussie, big clash you need to know

— Callum Dick

With the Australian Open kicking off on Monday, who should we be watching out for and which Aussies are action on the opening day?

These are all the key match-ups on day one at Melbourne Park.

Aussies in action – Day 1

Jason Kubler (WC) v Sebastian Baez

John Cain Arena: Not before 3.30pm AEDT

Kubler is riding high after stunning world No. 27 Dan Evans and No. 39 Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the United Cup to rocket up the ATP rankings and into a career-best No. 86. The 29 year old has never faced Sebastian Baez on tour. The Argentine was sent out in straight-sets to Ben Shelton at the ASB Classic in Auckland last week.

Talia Gibson (WC) v Clara Burel (Q)

Court 3: 2nd up from 11am AEDT

Eighteen-year-old Gibson is competing in her first grand slam and gets French qualifier Clara Burel for company in the opening round. West Australian Gibson won three ITF titles last year and will get her first taste of the Australian Open on Monday.

John Millman (WC) v Marc-Andrea Huesler

Court 3: 2nd up from 2.3pm AEDT

The Mailman is back at the Aus Open and has world No. 55 Marc-Andrea Huesler standing between him and the second round. The Aussie enjoyed a stirring three-set win over Spanish world No. 38 Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Adelaide last week.

Olivia Gadecki (WC) v Polina Kudermetova (Q)

Court 8: From 11am AEDT

Gadecki makes her Australian Open debut against world No. 182 Polina Kudermetova, the younger sister of No. 9 seed Veronika. Gadecki has lost both of her matches in 2023 so far but will feel confident against fellow AO debutant Kudermetova.

Storm Hunter (WC) v Xinyu Wang

Court 7: 4th up from 11am AEDT

It’s a tough first-up assignment for Hunter, who gets Hobart quarter-finalist Xinyu Wang in the opening round. Wang defeated fellow Aussie Olivia Gadecki in straight sets last week.

Rinky Hijikata (WC) v Yannick Hanfmann (Q)

Court 8: 4th up from 11am AEDT

Rising Aussie Hijikata took it right up to world No. 22 Denis Shapovalov in Adelaide earlier this month, winning the opening set against the explosive Canadian. He will fancy his chances against Hanfmann, who made it to the second round at last year’s Australian Open.

Intriguing match-ups – Day 1

Rafael Nadal (1) v Jack Draper

Rod Laver Arena: Not before 2.30pm AEDT

Young Britton Jack Draper is the first hurdle in Rafa’s title defence and the 21-year-old is one of the more difficult opponents Nadal could have drawn. Draper downed world No. 20 Karen Khachanov in straight sets at the Adelaide International last week and will be a great first-up test of the champ’s 2023 title credentials.

Sofia Kenin v Victoria Azarenka (24)

Margaret Court Arena: 3rd up from 11am AEDT

As bizarre as it may sound, the only two former Australian Open winners in the women’s draw meet in the opening round. Former world No. 1 Azarenka lifted the trophy at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, while Kenin was a shock winner in 2020. Azarenka has remained a top-30 player since then however Kenin endured a severe drop in form and plummeted outside the top 300 after withdrawing from the French Open and Wimbledon last year due to injury.

Kyle Edmund v Jannik Sinner (15)

John Cain Arena: From 11am AEDT

We got a sneak peek at this only two weeks ago, when Sinner and Edmund went head-to-head in the opening round of the Adelaide International. The young Italian, coached by Aussie Darren Cahill and touted as the next big thing in tennis, won that one 6-3 6-2. But Edmund is a former world No. 14 and semi-finalist at Melbourne Park in 2018, so expect a closer affair this time around.

Vasek Pospisil v Felix Auger-Aliassime (6)

Kia Arena: 2nd up from 3.30pm AEDT

An all-Canadian opening round clash and it’s a doozy. Auger-Aliassime was Canada’s Davis Cup hero last November and the next big hope after a breakout 2022 year. But the 22 year old’s start to the year has not been perfect – knocked out in the opening round of the Adelaide International by Aussie wildcard Alexei Popyrin. The Canadian compatriots have slit their tour meetings 3-1 in FAA’s favour, though Pospisil won their most recent clash in Vienna in 2020.

Elena Rybakina (22) v Elisabetta Cocciaretto

Court 13: Not before 4pm AEDT

From the outside courts comes an intriguing meeting between surprise 2022 Wimbledon winner Rybakina and Hobart International finalist Cocciaretto, who defeated 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and world No. 34 Alize Cornet on the way there.

Originally published as Australian Open 2023: Thanasi Kokkinakis admits he didn’t handle crowd well last year

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