Oft-injured Thanasi Kokkinkis may have pulled the upset of the season thus far Saturday, stunning world No. 1 Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) in the opening round in Miami.
Federer, who began the year winning his first 17 matches, has now lost his last two, both in final set tiebreakers and both to much taller foes.
After jumping out to a set lead over the 175th-ranked Australian, Federer seemed to be in control, but uncharacteristic errors crept into the Swiss’s game. In the third, it was more of the same. Federer had chances on the Kokkinakis serve but just couldn’t finish the job. Kokkinakis, meanwhile, kept slugging away held his nerves in the breaker to vanquish the 3-time tournament champion and Miami favorite for his biggest career win.
“This is nuts,” said the 21-year-old Kokkinakis. “It’s an unreal week for me. I’ve trained with [Federer] a bunch of times and he’s a great role model for the sport, but I took what I learned and played my game and executed. I didn’t put a lot of scoreboard pressure on him, but when I’m playing on my terms I don’t feel there are too many people that can go with me. I just needed to play my game and aggressive tennis.
Kokkinakis finished 25 winners to 27 unforced while Federer hit 39 winners to 31 unforced, but 18 off the forehand wing. Federer ended winning two more points than Kokkinakis who becomes the lowest ranked player to beat a World No. 1 since No. 178 Francisco Clavet upset Lleyton Hewitt at 2003 Miami.
“It’s disappointing,” Federer said. “Don’t know why I could never get to any level that I was happy with today. Sometimes you have these matches. Sometimes you find a way through. I just couldn’t get it done today.
“Honestly, in the third set anything could have happened,” Federer said. “I feel like I wasn’t feeling good. The ball, I wasn’t feeling. With my movement, things weren’t absolutely working.
“I felt like the third could be a tricky one, of course. I feel like every time I had chances, something bad happened for me, wrong decision making by me, good decision making by him. Who knows what happened. It just felt like I could be paying the price for opportunities missed.”
And by not reaching the quarterfinals, the defending champion Federer will lose his No. 1 ranking.
Kokkinakis, who only got into the event via a wildcard, moves on to meet Fernando Verdasco who was a winner over countryman Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
“Look, he’s a cool guy, a cool demeanour,” Federer went on. “He’s been to Dubai to practice with me a couple of times. I knew him very well. We have worked very hard together. I’ve always liked his game.
“I’m happy for him that on the big stage he was able to show it, center court, Miami, people watching, beating me. It’s a big result for him in his career. I hope it’s going to launch him, really getting his ranking up.”
Kokkinakis wasn’t the only Aussie to have a big win on Stadium. In the evening, Nick Kyrgios rolled past Dusan Lajovic 6-4, 6-1 in less than an hour.
Earlier in the day, Alexander Zverev overcame Daniil Medvedev also in a final set breaker 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4).
“It was not an easy match, but if you look at my history, the tournaments I do well in have very tough opening rounds,” said Zverev. “I didn’t play my best, but it’s very important to find ways to win matches like that.
“He’s one of the best servers on tour. On his serve, anything can happen. I was just happy to take my chances in the tiebreak and capitalize at 6/5 to win the match. It was very important for me and I hope to keep winning.”
Big men Kevin Anderson, Sam Querrey and Tomas Berdych were also winners.
Youngsters Denis Shapovalov, Frances Tiafoe, Borna Coric and Karen Khachanov all advanced as well.
On Sunday, in a marquee showdown Juan Martin del Potro will battle former finalist Kei Nishikori. Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, John Isner and Marin Cilic are also in action.
SUNDAY MIAMI SCHEDULE
STADIUM start 11:00 am
WTA –  E. Mertens (BEL) vs  J. Konta (GBR)
WTA –  V. Williams (USA) vs  K. Bertens (NED)
Not Before 2:00 pm
ATP –  J. Del Potro (ARG) vs  K. Nishikori (JPN)
ATP – J. Chardy (FRA) vs  G. Dimitrov (BUL)
WTA – [Q] S. Kenin (USA) vs  P. Kvitova (CZE)
Not Before 9:00 pm
ATP –  D. Schwartzman (ARG) vs  M. Raonic (CAN)
GRANDSTAND start 11:00 am
ATP – J. Sousa (POR) vs J. Donaldson (USA)
ATP – V. Pospisil (CAN) vs  M. Cilic (CRO)
WTA –  J. Ostapenko (LAT) vs B. Haddad Maia (BRA)
ATP –  J. Isner (USA) vs M. Youzhny (RUS)
WTA – R. Atawo (USA) / A. Groenefeld (GER) vs I. Begu (ROU) / S. Halep (ROU)
WTA – K. Bondarenko (UKR) / A. Krunic (SRB) vs  H. Chan (TPE) / L. Chan (TPE)
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