(Reuters) - Teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis will lead Australia’s charge for a place in the last four of the Davis Cup when he takes on Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin in the opening match of the quarter-final in Darwin this weekend.
With Bernard Tomic banned for the tie after an outburst aimed at Tennis Australia officials, the 19-year-old was preferred to big-serving Sam Groth for Friday’s singles rubber against the world number 63.
“I just think he’s the real deal,” captain Wally Masur said of the world number 69 at a news conference in the capital of the Northern Territory.
“He’s cool under pressure. The guy can play. He’s got a touch of class.”
World number 41 Nick Kyrgios will face Kazakhstan’s Aleksandr Nedovyesov in the second singles match despite being forced off the training court on Wednesday with a thigh problem.
Groth will, however, team up with former world number one Lleyton Hewitt in the doubles against Nedovyesov and Andrey Golubev on the purpose-built grass court.
“Ultimately you just make decision based on form when the guys hit the ground here in Darwin,” Masur said of his choices for the singles.
“They’re all hitting the ball really well, but yeah, I was kind of spoilt for choice.”
Australia have won the Davis Cup 28 times but they last reached the semi-finals in 2006 and their last title came in 2003 when Hewitt and Mark Philippoussis helped beat Spain in the final.
Kazakhstan are bidding to reach the last four for the first time.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien