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Kokkinakis cruises past Benneteau

5 January 2015, by

UPDATE 6.15pm: In a huge day for the home contingent, wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis has easily accounted for eighth-seeded Frenchman Julien Benneteau 6-4 6-3 to join countryman James Duckworth in the second round of the Brisbane International.

The world No.150 had lost his only previous meeting with Benneteau in a Davis Cup dead rubber early last year, but showed how much his game had developed in the space of a season to out-muscle his opponent in 1h 14mins on Pat Rafter Arena on Monday.

The 19-year-old Kokkinakis earned his first career win over a top-25 player on the back of bold play at crucial moments in the match.

He pushed thoughts of missed opportunities against Kevin Anderson and Feliciano Lopez – he took the first set off both players at Masters events in 2014 before losing in three – to the back of his mind, holding his nerve when it counted.

“Had a few tight ones last year where I was up a set on really good players but wasn’t able to finish it, so I was happy to keep my composure in the second set,” he said.

“Physically I felt a lot better. Felt like I was keeping my focus as well. That’s half the battle of closing out those matches. I felt like my game was there, and if I kept focusing I would’ve been able to hold on.

“Luckily I started coming up with big serves when I needed them, because I couldn’t find them really in the first set.”

After exchanging breaks early in the opening set, Kokkinakis stole the advantage in the blink of eye.

Ahead 5-4, but still on serve, the youngster charged the net to bring up set point on the Benneteau serve.

On the ensuing point, he pushed his opponent wide before sending a backhand winner into the open court.

The closing moments of the second were equally emphatic, with Kokkinakis closing it 6-3 with his ninth ace of the match.

The young Aussie faces a second-round encounter with countryman Bernard Tomic, provided he can get past American Sam Querrey at Monday night’s Pat Rafter Arena session.

Known for his dry sense of humour, Kokkinakis said the pair got along well together off the court.

“We play FIFA together,” he said.

“I beat him, but he claims he’s beaten me once and he doesn’t let me live it down.

“No, he’s a good guy and should be a good match whoever I play.

“I feel like I’m hitting the ball well, so just worry about my game more than who I am playing, and hopefully I do all right.”

In the final round of men’s qualifying, American duo Denis Kudla and Rhyne Williams both won through to the main draw.

Kudla, ranked No.123 in the world, defeated former world No.12 Victor Troicki 6-4 6-2 in 1h 6mins, while Williams beat Australian 24-year-old Matt Reid 6-3 6-4.

Romania’s Marius Copil beat Turk Marsel Ilhan 6-2 6-3 and will be joined in the men’s singles draw by Pole Lukasz Kubot, who was similarly convincing in his 6-3 6-2 victory over Frank Dancevic.

Watch match highlights here (only available outside Australia):