Sunday, August 12, 2018

Kokkinakis ends title drought, Harris streak

Fourth-seeded Thanasi Kokkinakis, serving in the
first round on Tuesday, beat unseeded Lloyd Harris
6-2, 6-3 today to win the $100,000 Nordic Naturals
Challenger in Aptos, Calif. Photo by Paul Bauman
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   It's only a Challenger title, but Thanasi Kokkinakis will take it.
   Kokkinakis, who was on his way to stardom three years ago before injuries derailed his career, dominated Lloyd Harris 6-2, 6-3 in 67 minutes today to win the $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger at the Seascape Sports Club in Aptos, Calif.
   It was Kokkinakis' first title since he won the 85,000 euro ($96,781) Bordeaux Challenger on clay as a qualifier in May 2015. The following month, he reached a career-high No. 69 in the world at age 19.
   Later that year, the right-hander hurt his right shoulder lifting weights -- not to improve his tennis but to look better in Nike's new sleeveless shirts -- and had surgery. Because of that and numerous other injuries, he played only one match in 2016 and seven tournaments last year.
   Kokkinakis reached his first ATP final last August in Los Cabos but lost to promising American Taylor Fritz 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) in the first round there last week. That dropped Kokkinakis' ranking 104 places to No. 268. He will rise to No. 201 on Monday.
   Before losing to Kokkinakis in Saturday's semifinals, top-seeded Thomas Fabbiano of Italy predicted the 22-year-old Australian, who stunned Roger Federer in the second round at Miami in March, eventually will crack the top 10.
   Kokkinakis, seeded fourth, emphatically ended the unseeded Harris' winning streak at nine matches. Harris, who won his first Challenger title last week in a $75,000 tournament in Lexington, Ky., lost no more than four games in a set during his streak.
   Kokkinakis dropped only one set during the week. He trailed eighth-seeded Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India by a set and an early service break before prevailing 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Friday night in the quarterfinals.
   Against Harris, the 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) Kokkinakis had 12 aces and one double fault, lost only one point on his first serve (26 of 27) and did not face a break point.
   The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Harris finished with six aces and six double faults, and won only 8 of 27 points on his second serve (30 percent).
   Harris, appearing tight, lost his serve in the opening game when he netted a forehand putaway and for 1-4 on a double fault. Both players held serve for 3-3 in the second set before Kokkinakis broke twice on unforced errors.
   Harris, 21, of South Africa will crack the top 150 for the first time at No. 145. He was ranked No. 221 at the beginning of July.
   Kokkinakis also won the doubles title with countryman Matt Reid. Unseeded, they nipped top-seeded Jonny O'Mara and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain 6-2, 4-6 [10-8].
   Kokkinakis became the first player to sweep the Aptos singles and doubles crowns since Chris Guccione of Australia in 2009 and the fourth in the tournament's 31-year history.
   Past competitors in the Aptos Challenger, the oldest in the United States, include International Tennis Hall of Famers Patrick Rafter and Michael Chang and future Hall of Famers Andy Murray, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan. The Bryan twins played at Stanford in 1997 and 1998, winning the NCAA doubles title as sophomores.
   Kokkinakis collected $14,400 for the singles title and $3,100 for the doubles crown. Harris, who lost in the first round of doubles, pocketed $8,480 for reaching the singles final.
   Both Kokkinakis and Harris are scheduled to play in next week's $100,000 Vancouver Challenger. Kokkinakis drew second seed and countryman Jordan Thompson, ranked No. 100, and Harris will play a qualifier to be determined.
   Here are the complete Aptos singles and doubles draws.

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