After a battling performance, Australian Open doubles champions Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis have narrowly lost their opening match in the ATP Finals to world No.1 pair Neal Skupski and Wesley Koolhof.
The Aussie duo took the first set despite Kyrgios having only stepped off a plane on Sunday having played in Mexico City on Friday, but were ultimately beaten 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 10-5.
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The Special Ks pushed the top seeds all the way in Turin on Monday, but the Anglo-Dutch pair eventually won out after 90 minutes.
Often playing more like two singles players than a doubles pair, reflecting their usual tour priorities, Kyrgios and Kokkinakis rattled their specialist doubles opponents. They trusted their ground strokes from the back of the court rather than volleying from the front, and served powerfully.
Kyrgios won the first set tiebreaker with an unreturned serve. However, at 3-3 in the second set Kokkinakis suffered what would prove the only break of the match, beaten by skilful net play from Koolhof.
That was part of a 12-point run in which Skupski and Koolhof won 11 points. Though Kyrgios held at 3-5, Skupski served out the set, forcing a match tiebreak.
The world No.1s had previously won 15 of 20 of these and their experience showed, the contest ending when Kyrgios returned serve into the net.
“My preparation has not been ideal, but we don’t need to waste time training,” he said, according to local reports.
This was only he and Kokkinakis’ 30th doubles match of the year while their opponents had played more than 70.
“That’s what Kyrgios and Kokkinakis are lacking a little bit – that fluidity as a team,” former player Dominic Inglot said.
“They’re great individual players, but there were some moments you could see there wasn’t that gelling from a textbook perspective.”
If they are to come through to take the title, the Special Ks would be the first all-Australian partnership to win the ATP Finals since 1996 when the ‘Woodies’ – Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge – won the second of their titles.
And pundit Greg Rusedski thinks it’s still a possibility.
“Don’t rule out these guys. They pushed the best team in the world the full distance,” the former US Open finalist said.
Commentator Daniela Hantuchova, who won all four mixed doubles slams, added: “They played some incredible tennis and have so many positives to take into the rest of the tournament.”
In the later match between the other pairs in the group, Croatian duo Nikola Metic and Mate Pavic beat Ivan Dodig and Austin Krajicek 6-4 3-6 10-7.
The top two go through to the semi-finals of the eight-team competition.