South Australian teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis arrived at the Hopman Cup this week excited just to train with some of the best players in the world, but will leave having played in the biggest match of his blossoming career.
The 16-year-old made his Hopman Cup debut at the Perth Arena today representing USA as a replacement for the injured John Isner.
Taking the court against world No.24 Fernando Verdasco, Kokkinakis had the crowd behind him but could not pull off the dream win, falling to the Spaniard 7-6 (7-4) 6-3.
Kokkinakis was warming up with Verdasco this morning when he was told he would be playing as well.
Armed with an impressive serve, the young Australian went after the Spanish star but fell away as the match wore on.
"I felt close. I don't think he played his best but I tried to do what I could," Kokkinakis said.
"The intensity was whole different to what I'm used to and I'm really looking forward to playing more matches like that.
"I can take a bit of confidence, I thought I played pretty well.
Although Verdasco was in cruise control for much of the contest, he said Kokkinakis showed all the hallmarks of a star in the making.
"I've been practising with him and I know he's 16 years old but he has a great stroke that normally 16-year-old guys don't have," he said.
"The serve that he has is like a professional, much better than many professionals.
"He will be a great player if he can keep going like that."
Kokkinakis is ranked No.756 in the world, the second-highest-ranked 16-year-old.
From here he will contest the men's and juniors Australian Open qualifiers over the next two weeks.
He said not only was Verdasco clearly his strongest-ever opponent but it was also his first televised game and the largest crowd he's played in front of.
"It was my first time using hawkeye as well, which was cool," he said.
"I got one right which I was pretty happy about."
He also partnered Venus Williams in the doubles in another unexpected treat.