Thanasi Kokkinakis gets eliminated from Adelaide International in the opening round.

Local hero and defending champion Thanasi Kokkinakis has been eliminated from his hometown Adelaide International after suffering a defeat in the first round to Serbian Dušan Lajović.

Lajović bounced back from a slow start and raised his level of play as the match progressed, disappointing the crowd at Memorial Drive with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory.

The loss means that Kokkinakis has not won a match since October, with his absence from the Davis Cup finals due to an ankle injury followed by a first-round defeat to Rinky Hijikita in Brisbane last week upon his return.

Kokkinakis made a name for himself by winning the wildcard title here in a thrilling and emotional journey in 2022, including a dramatic final-set tie-break victory over Marin Cilic in the semi-finals. However, his hopes of repeating that feat came to an end on Monday due to Lajović’s superior consistency from the baseline.

“I thought I started pretty well and played a good first set of tennis… didn’t make many mistakes,” Kokkinakis said. “I lost a bit of focus at the beginning of the second set. I would have loved to perform better here but I’m not quite at the level I need to be.”

Kokkinakis demonstrated his authority early on, with his first serve being almost impenetrable in the opening set until Lajović eventually found a solution. Kokkinakis secured the first break of the match and took a 3-1 lead before winning the opening set when Lajović hit a long backhand.

However, Lajović, an experienced player who caused an upset by defeating fellow countryman Novak Djokovic on Bosnian clay last year, refused to be an easy opponent.

Kokkinakis started making more errors in the second set, seemingly struggling with the softness of the tennis balls, which ultimately cost him against Lajović. After Kokkinakis made a forehand mistake and lost his serve in the fourth game, Lajović broke his serve again in the sixth game, this time without losing a point, and hit a crosscourt forehand winner to force a third set.

In the deciding set, Kokkinakis fell behind with a break but managed to break back three games later with an impressive down-the-line forehand winner. He continued to keep his fans on the edge of their seats when he saved multiple break points to hold and take a 4-3 lead. Lajović responded with a tense hold and then broke Kokkinakis again, serving out the match clinically and securing the victory with a powerful forehand.

Kokkinakis expressed his disappointment with the softness of the tennis balls after the loss, comparing them to “lemons.” He felt that the balls neutralized his powerful serve and were the softest he had encountered since the Cincinnati Masters last year.

“I remember this tournament usually being much faster,” he said. “Getting only four aces is not something I’m used to, especially on a relatively quick playing surface. When the balls become super slow, it feels like there is a lot of time to return. They are much slower compared to other tournaments last year, except maybe Cincinnati. After a few rallies, the balls become extremely slow and ineffective. It becomes difficult, especially in colder conditions, to generate power.”

Despite his frustration with the balls, Kokkinakis believed that the match was lost due to his own mistakes, particularly in the decisive second set.

“I don’t think it was him playing incredibly well in that second set,” he admitted. “He was consistent, he’s a good professional, and a tough player. The set may look like a 6-1 result, but it was just me losing focus. I felt like a lot of it was in my hands – I made a few errors, and suddenly it became a battle. That’s my biggest weakness, to be honest. When I’m playing well, I tend to relax too much. I might attempt shots that are not there and lose focus. It completely changed the momentum of the match.”

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