Kokkinakis Storms Back To Stun Federer In Miami

Aussie produces upset of the year thus far in 2018 in toppling Roger Federer

Welcome back, Thanasi Kokkinakis

Competing in just his fifth tournament in seven months, the Aussie announced his return to the ATP World Tour in emphatic fashion. Kokkinakis produced the biggest upset thus far in 2018, stunning defending champion Roger Federer at the Miami Open presented by Itau on Saturday.

His first victory over a World No. 1 was a thrilling comeback from a set down. The 21-year-old Aussie roared back for the signature win of his young career, exhibiting the poise and precision of a veteran to topple the three-time Miami champion 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4).

"This is nuts," said 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."

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It marked just the second time Federer has lost to someone as low as No. 175 Kokkinakis in 18 years, and the first time the Swiss has dropped consecutive matches since 2014. He was coming off another defeat in a deciding tie-break, having fallen to Juan Martin del Potro in the BNP Paribas Open final on Sunday. Moreover, Federer will not retain the No. 1 position in the ATP Rankings following the tournament, with Rafael Nadal returning to the top spot.

"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."

Lowest-Ranked Players To Upset A World No. 1 (since 1984)

ATP Ranking Upset Year Tournament
No. 238 Daniel Nestor d. Stefan Edberg 1992  Davis Cup
No. 205 Karim Alami d. Pete Sampras 1994  Doha
No. 193
Andrei Olhovskiy d. Jim Courier 1992  Wimbledon
No. 178 Francisco Clavet d. Lleyton Hewitt 2003  Miami
No. 175 Thanasi Kokkinakis d. Roger Federer 2018  Miami
No. 161 Sandon Stolle d. Thomas Muster 1996  Dubai

But Saturday was Kokkinakis' day as the spotlight shined bright on the young Aussie. He became the lowest-ranked player to defeat a World No. 1 since World No. 178 Francisco Clavet upset Lleyton Hewitt in Miami 2003. On the comeback trail after a bevy of injuries derailed his finish to 2017 and start to 2018, Kokkinakis would show no signs of rust. Groin and pectoral strains were followed by a rolled ankle at an ATP Challenger Tour event in Mexico less than a month ago, but with his movement crisp and forehand flowing, he refused to succumb in front of a packed crowd on Stadium court.

The trademark Federer flair was on full display in the early stages. After grabbing the opening break in the fourth game, the 36-year-old produced a moment of magic with a behind-the-back volley as Kokkinakis rifled a forehand at the net-charging Swiss. The Aussie would recover to fire a passing shot, but Federer would consolidate for 4-1. 

Federer had designs on sealing the victory in efficient fashion, but as his first-serve percentage and dipped in the second set, his grip on the match loosened as well. Unable to find a first serve at 1-2, he would be broken to love as momentum suddenly swung in Kokkinakis' favour and the match would be taken to a decider.

Kokkinakis, the 21-year-old Aussie with heaps of potential and immense talent, demonstrated the form that saw him ascend to a career-high of No. 69 in the ATP Rankings three years ago. With all the pressure on his shoulders in the third set, he responded, saving a pair of break points in the sixth game and eventually forcing a tie-break after falling behind 5-6 0/30. 

And the Adelaide native would not falter with the match hanging in the balance, claiming the decisive mini-break for 5-3 and dethroning the top seed with an unreturned serve on his first match point. He overcame 39 winners, while firing 25 of his own.

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"Honestly, in the third set anything could have happened," Federer added. "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."

Kokkinakis secured his second Top 10 victory - and first over a Top 5 opponent - after two hours and 21 minutes. He has now claimed consecutive match wins on the ATP World Tour for the first time since reaching his maiden final in Los Cabos last August. A wild card into qualifying in Miami, the Aussie has dropped just one set in four matches to reach the third round where he will next face Fernando Verdasco.

Verdasco also rallied from a set down on Saturday, denying countryman Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 4-6, 6-0, 6-2 to advance to the third round at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park for the fourth year in a row. The Spaniard is coming off a statement win over World No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov in Indian Wells after reaching the final at the ATP World Tour 500 event in Rio de Janeiro.

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One of Kokkinakis, Verdasco, Steve Johnson or Pablo Carreno Busta will reach the Miami quarter-finals. Johnson set a Monday meeting with Carreno Busta after defeating Adrian Mannarino 6-3, 6-3 in 71 minutes. He fired seven aces and saved both break points faced.

Carreno Busta, meanwhile, routed Denis Istomin 6-1, 6-0 in just 45 minutes, converting seven of nine break opportunities. The Spaniard, who ascended to a career-high No. 10 in the ATP Rankings last year, is enjoying his best result in Miami after going winless in four previous appearances.

Johnson won their lone previous FedEx ATP Head2Head encounter, at the ASB Classic in Auckland in 2015.