Local hero Thanasi Kokkinakis has crashed out of his hometown Adelaide International after suffering a first-round loss to Serbian party-crasher Dusan Lajovic.
Lajovic overcame an indifferent start to elevate his play as the night wore on and leave the Memorial Drive crowd disappointed after winning 3-6 6-1 6-4.
The defeat means Kokkinakis will enter the Australian Open winless since last October. He then missed the Davis Cup Finals with an ankle injury before suffering an opening-round loss to countryman Rinky Hijikita in his return in Brisbane last week.
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Kokkinakis announced himself with his thrilling, emotional ride to the 2022 title here as a wildcard, which included a dramatic final-set tiebreak to beat Marin Cilic in the semifinals, but his dreams of replicating that feat ended on Monday, Lajovic’s superior consistency from the back of the court telling.
Kokkinakis played with authority early, his first serve virtually impenetrable in the opening set before Lajovic eventually figured it out.
The South Australian unleashed a thunderous return to secure the first break of the match and take a 3-1 lead before impressively taking the opening set when the Serb pushed a backhand long.
But the experienced Lajovic, who stunned legendary compatriot Novak Djokovic on the Bosnian clay last year, was not going to be a pushover.
Kokkinakis became error-riddled in the second set, seemingly troubled by the softness of the balls and he was made to pay by Lajovic.
After the South Aussie miscued a forehand to concede his serve in the fourth game, Lajovic broke again in the sixth game – this time to love – before drilling a crosscourt forehand winner to send the match into a third set.
Kokkinakis fell behind a break in the decider before breaking back three games later with a crowd-pleasing, down-the-line forehand winner.
He continued to lead his fans on a rollercoaster ride when he dug his way out of a 0-40 deficit to hold and move ahead 4-3.
Lajovic responded with a tense hold before breaking Kokkinakis again, then serving it out clinically, sealing victory with a big forehand.
Lajovic will play the winner of Tuesday’s match between seventh seed Jiri Lehecka and Australian qualifier Adam Walton in the round of 16.