Thanasi Kokkinakis’s long-awaited singles comeback will be a bittersweet one after the Australian Davis Cup star drew doubles partner Jordan Thompson in the opening round of the Sydney International.
The clash between the two local wildcards will be the marquee first-round match-up at Olympic Park, with the winner to face either Italian Fabio Fognini or German Philipp Kohlschreiber for a spot in the quarter-finals.
Shoulder surgery followed by a torn pectorial muscle limited Kokkinakis to just one match last season, a first-round Olympics defeat, leaving the 20-year-old hungry to make up for lost time in 2017.
But he would have preferred not to strike his good friend for what will be his first ATP singles match in 15 months.
Fellow Australian and 2016 Wimbledon junior finalist Alex De Minaur drew Frenchman Benoit Paire after being handed the last men’s wildcard just hours before Saturday’s draw.
The Sydney-raised 17-year-old gets his big chance to showcase his talent in his home city after dazzling fans at this week’s Brisbane International.
De Minaur made a stunning run through qualifying in Queensland, upsetting 2015 Sydney runner-up Mikhail Kukushkin and beating fellow young gun and world No.108 Frances Tiafoe.
The appearances of Kokkinakis, Thompson and De Minaur has given the tournament much-needed local star power.
Once among the most prestigious events on the ATP calendar and boasting some of the all-time greats on the honour roll, the former NSW Open has become largely irrelevant to the game’s modern-day stars.
With the world’s premier men’s players wrapping themselves in cotton wool ahead of the season’s first grand slam in Melbourne, the Sydney International has struggled to attract major men’s drawcards in recent years.
But De Minaur is only too happy to receive his opportunity in his first full season in the professional ranks.
“Brisbane was my first (ATP) main-draw appearance and it was great to get that experience under my belt,” De Minaur said.
“I think it will help me a lot in Sydney now that I know what to expect.
“I can’t wait to get out on court. This is my first summer out of the junior ranks and to be able to play the main draw in Sydney where I grew up is really special.”
Australian Davis Cup Captain Lleyton Hewitt said he was impressed with De Minaur’s work ethic and attitude leading into his Australian Open Series debut.
“The wildcard is a well-earned reward for Alex. He played really well in Brisbane,” Hewitt said.
“He is a young kid and he works incredibly hard on and off the court. I have no doubt he’ll take this opportunity in front of his home crowd in Sydney and play some great tennis.”