Teenage prodigy Thanasi Kokkinakis is confident he can repay Wally Masur’s faith again by giving Australia a winning start in the Davis Cup quarter-final tie against Kazakhstan.
Kokkinakis edged out big-serving Sam Groth for a singles berth and will start proceedings at Darwin’s Marrara Sports Complex on Friday against Kazakhstan’s top player, world No.63 Mikhail Kukushkin.
Australia’s No.1 Nick Kyrgios will face off against world No.115 Aleksandr Nedovyesov in the second singles match.
Groth was unlucky to miss out on a singles berth for the grasscourt clash after continuing recent good form at Wimbledon.
But the 27-year-old will team with Lleyton Hewitt for Saturday’s doubles encounter against Andrey Gulubev and Nedovyesov.
Kokkinakis has risen to 69th in the world on the back of a series of strong performances, which included a third-round appearance at the French Open.
But it was the 19-year-old’s Davis Cup display against the Czech Republic in March that really proved his mettle.
Kokkinakis came from two sets and a break down to defeat world No.46 Lukas Rosol in the opening rubber, setting up Australia’s 3-2 victory on enemy territory.
“I just think he’s the real deal,” Davis Cup captain Masur said of Kokkinakis.
“He’s cool under pressure. The guy can play. He’s got a touch of class.”
Kokkinakis said his win over Rosol had been a huge moment in his career.
“Having that experience in Ostrava was really good for me – showing I can do it even when things aren’t going my way,” Kokkinakis said.
“I was down two sets to love, and a break – in my first ever live rubber. I think Wally was regretting his decision a little bit.
“He told me to sit down and smile. I told him it was tough to do when you’re getting absolutely chopped.
“But then I got the momentum.”
With world No.25 Bernard Tomic banned from this week’s tie following his outburst against Tennis Australia, Kyrgios has been thrust into the lead role.
Kyrgios courted plenty of controversy himself during his run to the fourth round of Wimbledon, and the headlines have continued since he arrived back in Australia.
The 20-year-old insisted he’s feeling fresh after spending a few days back home in Canberra, and he’s ready to put the negative headlines behind him with a strong display for his country.
“This is the sort of atmosphere I love playing in front of,” Kyrgios said.
“When the crowd’s behind you, you can do some pretty good things. I feel we all thrive on that a little bit.”
Hewitt has been a lock for a Davis Cup singles berth for most of his decorated career.
But the 34-year-old said he was more than happy to pass on the baton to the younger generation, and instead focus on winning the crucial doubles rubber.
DAVIS CUP DRAW (Australians named first, rankings in brackets)
*Thanasi Kokkinakis (69) v Mikhail Kukushkin (63)
*Nick Kyrgios (41) v Aleksandr Nedovyesov (115)
*Sam Groth (68) and Lleyton Hewitt (279) v Andrey Gulubev (155) and Nedovyesov (115)
*Nick Kyrgios (41) v Mikhail Kukushkin (63)
*Thanasi Kokkinakis (69) v v Aleksandr Nedovyesov (115)
AUSTRALIA’S DAVIS CUP RECORD
*Played 234 ties for 171 wins and 63 losses
*Most wins for Australia: Lleyton Hewitt – 56
*Most ties for Australia: Lleyton Hewitt – 40
*Most years played for Australia: Lleyton Hewitt – 17
*Last appearance in semi-finals – 2006
*Last title win – 2003 (beat Spain 3-1)