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Sinner a winner at Western & Southern Open on 21st birthday, outlasting Kokkinakis

Jannik Sinner celebrates. Photo credit: Western & Southern Open Facebook

By Ricky Dimon

Not too surprisingly considering the jam-packed order of play, there were a whole host of three-set thrillers at the Western & Southern Open on Tuesday.

Jannik Sinner won what was arguably the best first-round match of the tournament. The 12th-ranked Italian survived a high-quality contest against Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-7(9), 6-4, 7-6(6) after three hours and 15 minutes. It wasn’t easy, but Sinner treated himself to a perfect 21st birthday present.

“I love to play tennis and doing the thing that you love on your birthday is the best thing you can do,” Cincinnati’s No. 10 seed said. “Obviously today was a happy ending, so I’m very happy about that.”

Not as much joy was found in Cincinnati compared to Montreal for Pablo Carreno Busta, who was last week’s improbable Masters 1000 winner. Carreno Busta lost his next match just two days later, falling to Miomir Kecmanovic 1-6, 7-5, 7-6(4).

Marin Cilic avoided a third-set tiebreaker of his own by battling back from a break deficit late in the decider to defeat Emil Ruusuvuori 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-5.

Sinner, Kecmanovic, and Cilic were joined in the winners’ circle by 19-year-old American Ben Shelton, who earned his first-ever Masters 1000 match win by beating Lorenzo Sonego 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-5. A 30-minute rain delay stopped the match with Sonego preparing to serve at 5-6 in the final set, after which Shelton promptly broke to clinch victory.

“It means a lot [to get my first Masters 1000 win],” the University of Florida star stated. “I was really grateful for (tournament director) Eric (Butorac) giving me a wild card here. I’m really happy that I get to play my first one here in the United States. It’s an amazing atmosphere here and it was a lot of fun today, so I’m excited for round two.”

Regardless of what happens against Casper Ruud on Wednesday, Shelton will break into the top 200 next week. He was as low as No. 547 as recently as June 5.

“That’s awesome,” Shelton said after being made aware. “I didn’t realize that, but it’s cool that I made the top 200. That’s definitely a checkmark for me, so I’m glad that I’m moving in the right direction.”

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.