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Injured stars clear schedule for Open

Tennis

Jordan Thompson is upbeat Thanasi Kokkinakis will be fit enough to partner him in the Australian Open next week.

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Adelaide young gun Kokkinakis was a last-minute withdrawal from the Sydney International yesterday, removing himself from a clash with compatriot Thompson because of an abdominal strain.

It came as fellow rising star Nick Kyrgios, as forecast in InDaily yesterday, was a last minute no-show at Adelaide’s World Tennis Challenge as he seeks to overcome his own injury concerns.

The 20-year-old Kokkinakis had been poised to make his long-awaited singles comeback after enduring shoulder, pectoral and groin injuries during a 15-month stretch on the tour sidelines. He is today expected to learn more about his hopes of contesting the Open.

The South Australian has been booked in for scans, with medicos upbeat his latest setback is minor.

Thompson believes Kokkinakis, who suffered the injury during the pair’s victory in the final of the Brisbane International doubles, will be given the all clear to at least play doubles at Melbourne Park.

“I think it’s more cautionary. He doesn’t want to come back too early. He’s got the biggest tournament next week,” Thompson said after defeating Nikoloz Basilashvili 7-5 6-2 in the first round of the Sydney International.

Asked if he believed his doubles partner would be passed fit to play at the Open, he said: “I think so.”

“When he pulled out, I gave him a call. He didn’t answer. I knew he was up in the player lounge. He was actually up with his family.

“I came up and said ‘are you going to be all right for doubles?’ That was pretty much it. We had a chat about it.”

Thompson accounted for lucky loser Basilashvili, called up following Kokkinakis’ withdrawal, with ease.

But he admitted changing opponents on the day of a match was a different sort of challenge.

“It’s weird when you’re drawn to play someone, and that was about three or four days ago, and I was getting ready to play him and he pulls out last minute,” Thompson said.

“It’s tough, but I think I adapted well.”

Meanwhile, Lleyton Hewitt has anointed Kyrgios as a genuine chance to break the host nation’s 41-year Australian Open men’s singles title drought as he hands the baton and home pressures to Australian tennis’s generation next.

After a record 20 consecutive Open appearances, Hewitt will this year be mentoring and closely monitoring Australia’s Melbourne Park hopefuls as Davis Cup captain.

And he has no doubt Kyrgios – set to be seeded 14th after his breakout three-title season in 2016 – is ready to cope with the spotlight as the host country’s biggest title hope.

Hewitt was courtside on Monday night cajoling Kyrgios as the 21-year-old two-time grand slam quarter-finalist temporarily allayed fitness concerns with an impressive Fast4 win over Rafael Nadal in Sydney.

His victory over the 14-time major champion came after he battled a knee injury in a straight-sets loss in his third and final match at the Hopman Cup.

“Nick’s first two matches in Perth were pretty impressive. Ball striking was great. He was moving really well (with) good intensity,” Hewitt said.

“He’s going to be seeded quite high as well so he’s got a good chance.

“Outside that top group who have won slams, he’s certainly in that next group.

“No doubt he plays well in the majors. He plays well over five sets and now that he is in the top 16 seeds, he doesn’t have to play those (top) guys until the second week.”

Hewitt famously defied a painful hip injury to storm to the 2005 final in Melbourne and believes Kyrgios, with his ferocious firepower, is even more capable of embarking on a similarly brave run.

“He’s had some niggles before and one thing with Nick, he doesn’t need a lot of matches under his belt. He can go in fresh and play extremely well,” Hewitt said.

“He’s different (to me). I still think I had to get enough time on court for my hitting and my rhythm.

“But Nick doesn’t need that. For him, it’s more about what the issues are (and) getting on top of that.

“The biggest thing for him is going to be managing his body over the next five or six days.”

Unfortunately for Adelaide tennis fans, that involved the rising star withdrawing from the SA showcase, with World Tennis Challenge general manager David Hearne yesterday expressing his disappointment.

“We saw him play [in Sydney] and he looked fit and healthy and looked really good but from talking to his team he hasn’t pulled up very well,” Hearne told media.

“I’m certainly disappointed. We spent a lot of time, we’ve put a lot of effort in to Nick playing the event. It would have been fantastic to have him.

“[But] we also need to understand that there’s a Grand Slam directly after us and for all players, that is really what they’re playing for and we really need to take that into consideration.”

-AAP

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