SYDNEY (Reuters) - Serbian Viktor Troicki took a big step on his comeback trail after a doping ban by ruthlessly dismantling fellow qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin 6-2 6-3 to win the Sydney International on Saturday.
The 28-year-old righthander, who returned to action last July after serving a one-year ban for missing a dope test, took just over an hour to claim his second career ATP title.
A rampant Troicki won the last four games of the first set and was 4-1 up in the second when Kukushkin took a medical timeout to have treatment on his left thigh.
The Kazakh had made his way to the final without losing a set, including in his quarter-final victory over Juan Martin Del Potro, but his mobility had been key to his progress.
The world number 66 rallied to win the next two games for his only break of serve in the contest and offered hope of an extended contest to the neutrals on Ken Rosewall Arena.
Troicki, however, was just too strong and, roared on by vocal support from Sydney’s ethnic Serb community, broke back before serving out the match to love, sealing victory with his 13th ace.
“We both came through the qualis so it was a tough week and we’re heading to straight to Melbourne where we play on Monday,” Troicki said after receiving the trophy from Australian tennis great Rosewall.
“There’s no stopping.”
Troicki will take a big boost in confidence into his first round tie at the Australian Open against Czech Jiri Vesely, who also won an ATP title as a qualifier on Sunday at the Auckland Open.
Once ranked 12th in the world, Troicki’s victory in his second Sydney International final will send him back towards the top 50 from his current ranking of 92.
He has made it clear this week that he believes his doping ban was unfair and paid tribute to his Australian coach Jack Reader and the rest of his team for sticking with him.
“They were with me throughout the hardest time that is behind me,” he said.
“They stood by me and I really appreciate that.”
Kukushkin said his injury had been a hangover from hip surgery he underwent three years ago and was not certain he would be able to face Malek Jaziri at Melbourne Park on Monday.
”Tough to say,“ he told reporters. ”Of course I hope I will be able to recover. Of course when I play eight days in a row it’s tough.
“But I will have day off tomorrow and fly to Melbourne. I will have a match already on Monday. I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty