Thanasi Kokkinakis has broken through to win his first ATP title. The South Australian defeated Arthur Rinderknech in the 2022 Adelaide International Final, in front of his adoring fans.
Road to the Final
It was not an easy run to the final for Kokkinakis, defeating quality players along the way.
Benoit Paire was first up, and Kokkinakis wiped the 47th-ranked French star off the court, winning 6-4 6-0.
Second seed John Isner stood in the way in the second round, as Kokkinakis survived three tiebreak sets to win, 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 7-6(4). The Aussie hit an eye-watering 15 aces against the American big man.
Kokkinakis’ serve continued to be a weapon as he faced friend and fellow-Aussie Aleksandar Vukic in the quarter-final. This time, he hit 17 aces as he defeated Vukic, 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2.
To reach just his second ATP final, Kokkinakis had to get past world No. 29 Marin Cilic. And get past him he did in a stirring performance, 6-2 3-6 7-6(10). Kokkinakis led 6-2 in the final set tiebreaker but Cilic would fight back and even had match points of his own, before the crowd willed the local home.
Rinderknech himself had an impressive run to the final, defeating Mackenzie McDonald, Kwon Soon-woo, third seed Karen Khachanov and countryman Corentin Moutet.
Serves reign supreme as Rinderknech silences Adelaide crowd
Rinderknech’s sizzling court coverage was a highlight, as both players held serve early.
The world No. 58 was struggling to land first serves, and Kokkinakis was able to exploit that by winning a number of points off his opponent’s second serve. Rinderknech managed to hold his serve despite his wobbles.
A beautiful volley from Rinderknech ended a terrific rally in the seventh game of the set, with the French star showing his delicate touch. It was a stark contrast to the blazing power he was otherwise displaying throughout the set.
The match was evenly poised as the first set headed to a tiebreak. Incredibly, both players had won 17 of 20 points when their first serve landed to that point.
Kokkinakis was able to find the paint with his serve as the set drew closer to a nail-biting end, hitting a number of aces throughout the tiebreak.
The Adelaide product would earn a set point on the back of a sensational rally in which both players covered all four corners of the court.
But it was the 26-year-old Rinderknech who took the first set in 58 minutes. The parochial South Australian crowd were silenced as Kokkinakis hit a backhand into the net.
Second-straight tiebreaker as Memorial Drive lifts
The setting Adelaide sun was proving to be an issue for both players as the court was covered with a mix of light and dark spots.
Playing in his first ATP final, Rinderknech pushed a serving Kokkinakis to deuce for the first time in the match. But the South Australian held strong to move to a 3-2 lead.
Aiming to become the first South Australian to win an ATP tournament in Adelaide since Lleyton Hewitt defeated Thomas Enqvist in the 2000 Next Generation Adelaide International Final, the 25-year-old took a 4-3 lead, as service games continued to dominate the contest.
Mirroring the world No. 145’s clash with Isner earlier in the week, receiving was tough-going and no breaks of serve were completed as the second set moved to another tiebreak.
The Frenchman landed a near-impossible backhand winner to secure a mini-break early in the tiebreak.
Kokkinakis then went on a hot streak, lifting Memorial Drive onto their feet as he reeled off five straight points to have the upper hand.
The South Aussie had three set points, but a soft touch from Rinderknech in the form of a cross-court forehand winner kept him in the set.
With the score at 6-5, a huge Kokkinakis serve forced the return into the net and the set belonged to him.
The Adelaide boy toyed with the crowd and asked them to lift as he walked to his seat with his chest pumped out.
Crowd roars as Adelaide crowns their new king
Both players took the chance for a quick toilet break before the third set commenced, giving the now-roaring crowd a chance to breathe. The Kokkinakis-strong crowd had been holding their collective breath for nearly two hours, such was the gripping nature of the encounter.
The level of noise had Memorial Drive shaking as Kokkinakis broke Rinderknech’s serve in the very first game in the third set. The 25-year-old joined in with his people, yelling out a roar of ‘come on’ as the players moved to swap ends.
Playing in just his second ATP final, the first since Los Cabos in 2017, the 25-year-old comeback kid consolidated his break, taking a 2-0 lead in the decider.
A product of college tennis at the Texas A&M University, Rinderknech was aiming to become the first alumni to become the winner of a men’s singles ATP title, as he struggled to keep in touch.
Knee, shoulder, back, groin and pectoral muscle injuries, combined with a bout of glandular fever, have meant Kokkinakis has endured a tougher run than most professional players will experience. But his ability to not throw the towel in and make something of his career led him to this moment.
Not just his friends, family and home state, but a nation stood to it’s feet at the conclusion of the final point.
Thanasi Kokkinakis is the champion of an ATP event.
And just how sweet it must feel to do it at home.
His first ever title ended with a score of 6-7(6) 7-6(5) 6-3.
Kokkinakis will only have Sunday to recover before he plays Yannick Hanfmann in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday. Rinderknech will open his campaign against Aussie Alexei Popyrin on Tuesday.
Peers holds trophy aloft in Sydney
Earlier in the day, Australian John Peers and Slovakian partner Filip Polasek played in the Sydney Tennis Classic Men’s Doubles Final. Playing against fancied Italian pair Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini, the Peers and Polasek were able to play their best tennis at the crunch-time of each set, winning 7-5 7-5.