Thanasi Kokkinakis has lost a titanic opening encounter in Australia’s Davis Cup Finals group stage tie with Great Britain, beaten by the home country’s new darling, Jack Draper.
The GB hosts, who caused a surprise by dropping their No.1 Cameron Norrie and all-time great Andy Murray from Wednesday’s line-up at Manchester AO Arena, were left saluting a fresh star in Draper, the 21-year-old who battled back to win 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 7-6 (7-4) after Kokkinakis served for the match in the final set.
Breaking back when the key opening rubber looked to be going the Australians’ way, Draper also then roared back from 4-2 down in the first match-deciding tiebreak he had ever played at tour level to enable GB to draw first blood in the best-of-three rubber.
It left Australian No.1 Alex de Minaur having to beat Dan Evans in the second singles to keep last year’s finalists in the tie and set up a deciding doubles.
In a high-quality and exhilarating opening contest between two heavy hitters, it was Draper, who’d just returned from a magnificent breakthrough US Open where he reached the last-16, who came out on top after two hours and 50 minutes of engrossing action during which he pounded down 24 aces to Kokkinakis’s 17.
All was going well for Kokkinakis, trusted for the key opening rubber by his captain Lleyton Hewitt despite having endured a disappointing performance in last year’s Finals in Malaga, when he emerged triumphant in a 63-minute opening stanza during which he saved a set point.
But 21-year-old Draper was inspired, breaking the Adelaide battler twice in the second set with his own serve proving unbreakable until the end of the deciding set when Kokkinakis at last cracked the exciting left-hander in the ninth game to take a 5-4 lead and serve for the match.
Back came Draper, though, earning a third break of the match to take Kokkinakis into a tiebreak, which the young Brit ended up winning, sending the 9000-crowd into ecstasy with his glorious driven backhand clinch er down the line.