De Minaur, Kokkinakis break Aussie duck in Paris

Alex de Minaur produced a virtuoso display on wet clay to power into the French Open second round.

Alex de Minaur produced a virtuoso display on wet clay to power into the French Open second round. Photo: Getty

Alex de Minaur and Thanasi Kokkinakis, the main man and the marathon man, have dispelled the gloom in the Australian tennis ranks with gloriously contrasting victories on a long, rain-interrupted day at the French Open.

First, de Minaur hung around for five hours waiting to get on court on Tuesday before handing out a lesson on the wet clay to American teen tyro Alex Michelsen, beating him 6-1 6-0 6-2 to break the Aussie win drought in virtuoso style.

But that swift demolition job was only the support act before Thanasi Kokkinakis earned a remarkable see-saw five-set triumph – 4-6 7-6 (10-8) 6-3 5-7 6-3 – over his good friend and stablemate Alexei Popyrin in the all-Aussie ‘popcorn match’ that concluded under lights in front of a packed outside-court crowd.

The double success guaranteed two Australians in the second round after two wretched winless days in which the green-and-gold challenge had suffered five defeats and an injury withdrawal.

There was further disappointment as overseas slam newcomer Adam Walton and US Open star Rinky Hijikata both got knocked out in the first round as well, but de Minaur offered a stirring defence of the Australian men’s 2-6 first-round record here.

“We’ve had nine Australian men in the main draw, and we’re getting stronger and stronger as a nation,” de Minaur said.

“I’m very proud to be a part of Australian tennis and how strong it’s looking, going from Davis Cup all the way to our top-100 players. It’s ultimately a strength in numbers.”

But there’s no doubt he’s the leader of the pack.

The 19-year-old Michelsen was left so battered and bamboozled, he ended up reduced to the sort of vintage teenage tantrum that John McEnroe would have been proud of, berating umpire Louis Boucharinc and screaming petulantly when a line call went against him in the final set.

Laughing when asked if it was his best performance at Roland Garros after a series of patchy displays there over eight years, de Minaur responded: “Well, there’s not too many to go from, so I’ll take it! Looking at the scores and everything, it probably is.

“I’m a completely different player than previous years on the surface. I feel comfortable. I feel capable. I’m going to do my very best because ultimately my goals are, at the slams, to go deep.”

The second Australian finally went through at 11.37pm but it was only deep into the last half-hour of the four-hour 24 minutes epic that Kokkinakis finally turned the screw over his pal Popyrin in a big-hitting slogathon that felt as if could have gone either way.

But Kokkinakis, who’s suffered both heartbreak and joy in epic slam five-setters before, this time roared from 2-0 down in the final set to earn the win that sets him up for a potential third visit to the Paris slam third round, as he meets Italian qualifier Giulio Zeppieri in the second.

Meanwhile, the longest day for de Minaur, who meets Spain’s Jaume Munar next, went on until 11.30pm.

Having arrived at Roland Garros early on Tuesday morning and waiting five hours for his match to get under way amid the incessant cold and drizzle, he went late-night cheerleading, only to watch girlfriend Katie Boulter get knocked out by Paula Badosa.

De Minaur had earlier produced a dazzling display on Simmone-Mathieu, the beautiful ‘garden’ court set between four greenhouses, where his game had rarely bloomed on the clay as splendidly.

The strapping American Michelsen, who’d beaten de Minaur in Los Cabos on a hardcourt in April, struggled with his footwork in the damp while de Minaur, almost balletic in comparison, delivered an array of drops, lobs and all-court shotmaking that delivered eight breaks of a big serve and 28 winners.

The win came before Brisbane wildcard Walton, gutsy on his overseas slam debut and his first ever tour clay-court match, battled admirably, trying to silence a roaring home crowd at the end of the third set, before also bowing out 6-2 6-4 7-5 to former French No.1 Arthur Rinderknech.

And when Rinky Hijikata lost late in the evening 6-3 7-6 (8-6) 6-1 to impressive Italian Luciano Darderi, the Sydneysider became the seventh of the nine Aussie main draw starters to depart.


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