Aussie Tennis Wrap: Millmania hits the USA; Kokkinakis injured again; Popyrin suffers sixth-straight loss

John Millman poses after hitting the 10,000th ace at the Delray Beach Open. (Photo: Delray Beach Open)

With Davis Cup qualifying on the horizon, Alexei Popyrin is in the midst of a form slump, suffering six straight losses. Meanwhile, a couple of Australians have secured career-high rankings whilst the Australian women players have converged on the Middle East.

Men’s Singles

Australia’s top-ranked male player, Alex de Minaur, has climbed in ranking since the Australian Open. The world No. 32 has featured in one tournament since the Australian Open, fronting up at the ATP 500 in Rotterdam. The 23-year-old annihilated former world No. 7 David Goffin in the first round before getting past American Mackenzie McDonald in three tough sets. The Aussie was no match for Greek superstar Stefanos Tsitsipas, with the world No. 4 cruising past de Minaur in the quarter-final. Tsitsipas is now 7-0 in head-to-head clashes with the the Aussie.

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Australia’s number one men’s player, Alex de Minaur. (Photo: TOI Sports/Twitter)

‘Demon’ will next play in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where world No. 1 Novak Djokovic will make his controversial return to tennis. After Dubai, a busy period will ensue, as he travels to Australia for the Davis Cup and then on to the USA to play in the first ATP Masters 1000 event of 2022 at Indian Wells.

Since defeating Stefano Travaglia in the Melbourne Summer Set, Alexei Popyrin has endured a run of six straight losses. The form isn’t as bad as it may seem, with Popyrin going down to Arthur Rinderknech in five sets at the Australian Open, before pushing Filip Krajinovic to a tiebreak in Montpellier.

This was followed by two matches in which he was unable to capitalise on a match point. An extremely tight loss to world No. 28 Karen Khachanov in Rotterdam, 6-7(4) 6-1 7-6(6) preceded the 22-year-old’s most recent loss, which came in Marseille to qualifier Roman Safiullin, again in three tight sets.

Popyrin will need to turn the tide soon, as he will soon lose 250 ranking points due to winning last year’s ATP event in Singapore.

The world No. 66 will represent Australia in the upcoming Davis Cup tie in Australia, alongside de Minaur, Thanasi Kokkinakis, John Peers and Luke Saville. The Australian team environment and comradery might just be what Popyrin needs to turn around his form.

Australia face Hungary on the 4th and 5th of March in Sydney.

The second-ranked male player in Australia, James Duckworth, will miss the next couple of months as he recovers from hip surgery. He has set a target of late April to return to playing.

World No. 94 Thanasi Kokkinakis has played just once since his remarkable Australian Open Men’s Doubles title. The 25-year-old was defeated in straight sets by up-and-coming USA star Sebastian Korda, 6-4 6-1. The Adelaide International winner has withdrawn from qualifying in Acapulco next week, citing an eye injury.

Jordan Thompson fronted up at the ATP 250 event in Dallas and had reasonable success. The man with the mo defeated Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez in straight sets, before an impressive win over USA youngster Brandon Nakashima. In the quarter-final, Thompson was unable to have success, getting comfortably defeated by Jenson Brooksby, 6-3 6-0.

Jordan Thompson plays a forehand. (Photo: Tennis Australia)

The Sydneysider then faced world No. 164 Mitchell Krueger at the Delray Beach Open in Florida, but was comprehensively beaten, 6-2 6-4.

On his way to losing against Thompson, Nakashima defeated John Millman in straight sets. Since the loss, the 32-year-old Queenslander has currently been playing at the Delray Beach Open. Millman secured an impressive victory over eighth seed Maxime Cressy in three tiebreak sets, and progressed to the quarter-finals by defeating Marcus Giron in straight sets.

The win over Giron saw Millman hit the milestone 10,000th ace in the tournament’s history.

The world No. 91 will face third seed Grigor Dimitrov next for a spot in the semi-final.

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After his brilliant quarter-final run in Adelaide, Aleksandar Vukic has continued his climb up the rankings. Two victories in India over Huge Grenler and compatriot Jason Kubler has seen Vukic rise to 135 in the world. This will rise even further on Monday into at least the 120’s. Vukic will face Max Purcell tonight in the Bengaluru Challenger.

Purcell reached the quarter-final after consecutive three-set victories over Aussies Marc Polmans and Kubler. The Australian Open Men’s Doubles finalist is currently ranked 176 in the world, his personal best. Like Vukic, this will soar when the rankings are updated on Monday.

After an impressive run at the Australian Open, Christopher O’Connell is playing with a new-found confidence. The 27-year-old defeated Mubarak Shannan Zayid and Pavel Kotov in the Qatar Open qualifiers, but was defeated by Alex Molcan in a tight three-set encounter in the main draw.

Women’s Singles

Australian Open champion and world No. 1 Ash Barty has been enjoying some rest at home after her all-conquering win at Melbourne Park in January. The Queenslander is expected to return at the ATP Masters 1000 event at Indian Wells early next month.

Ajla Tomljanovic made it through two rounds of qualifying for the Dubai Tennis Championships, but was unable to win her third qualifying encounter to make it through to the main draw. Luckily, the world No. 39 earned a chance to play in the main draw as a lucky loser. This didn’t last long however, as she was bundled in the first round by Varvara Gracheva, 6-1 7-5.

Also in the Dubai qualifiers, Astra Sharma made it through the first round before winning just two games against Madison Brengle in the second round. Sharma will face Belgian veteran Kirsten Flipkens in qualifying for the Qatar Open tonight. It’s not all bad news for the Singapore-born Aussie, with an expected career-high ranking to be confirmed on Monday.

Ellen Perez and Maddison Inglis were the final two Aussies to appear in the Dubai qualifiers, with Perez bundled out in the first round. Inglis, still on a high after her fairytale Australian Open run, endured a huge win over Italian Sara Errani but had to retire hurt against ninth-seed Katerina Siniakova with the score at 0-6 0-3.

Inglis returns to action tonight, beginning her qualifying campaign for the Qatar Open against Kristina Kucova. Perez will face Andrea Petkovic, also in Qatar qualifying this evening.

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