Thanasi Kokkinakis on his way to defeat against Japan's Kei Nishikori.
Thanasi Kokkinakis on his way to defeat against Japan's Kei Nishikori. Petr David Josek

Japanese star too good for Kokkinakis in Paris

THANASI Kokkinakis' belated return to grand slam company has ended in predictable defeat to Japanese star Kei Nishikori, but the gifted South Australian has sent the strongest possible signal he will again be a force to be reckoned with.

Contesting his first major since the 2015 US Open after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder 16 months ago, Kokkinakis suffered inevitable ring rust.

But his class shone through against world No 9 Nishikori in an encouraging 4-6 6-1 6-4 6-4 first-round French Open loss.

One of the most talented players in the world, Kokkinakis was cruelly sidelined for four months this season with an abdominal strain.

Using a protected ranking to compete, Kokkinakis vaulted to a 4-2 first-set lead in a dream comeback to the highest level before Nishikori found range.

Tied at a set apiece, Kokkinakis forged to a 3-1 buffer in the third set, only to be reeled in.

Refusing to yield, Kokkinakis stretched Nishikori for 3hrs,2mins.

Kokkinakis unloaded 41 winners to Nishikori's 47 but was understandably rusty with 41 unforced errors to 24.

Fellow Australian Ashleigh Barty was mercilessly eliminated by American 12th seed Madison Keys.

A singles quarter-finalist and doubles champion in Strasbourg last week, Barty struggled with Keys' enormous power, departing 6-3 6-2 in 61 minutes.

Barty's defeat leaves Sam Stosur as Australia's sole second-round presence from a starting contingent of five.

Ajla Tomljanovic, Daria Gavrilova and Jaimee Fourlis were all first-round casualties.

Keys was at her imposing best, dominant from the baseline with 22 winners to 10 and 18 unforced errors to 19.

Barty produced seven double faults.

Her defeat came as Australian Open semi-finalist and seventh seed Johanna Konta was dumped from the tournament.

former Australian lost 1-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 to China Taipei's Su-Wei Hsieh.

Other winners on the third day included Ukraine fifth seed Elina Svitolina, Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova, France's Alize Cornet, and Spanish 21st seed Carla Suarez Navarro.



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