Australian Open 2022: Adelaide International champion Thanasi Kokkinakis reflects on his return to tennis spotlight
Thanasi Kokkinakis had the Novak Djokovic experience in Miami last year.
Unbeknown to the Australian tennis player, his visa was accidentally cancelled via Washington and he spent about four hours detained in an airport backroom while it was sorted out.
A few months later, while trying to head to Mexico after Wimbledon, Kokkinakis was delayed by 24 hours when he didn’t have the required PDF copy of a negative PCR Covid-19 test.
Trekking the globe on the tennis tour isn’t as glamorous as it seems, especially when – as in Kokkinakis’ case – you’re forced to play off Broadway, in front of a man and his dog, to rebuild your ranking.
It’s unrecognisable from his extraordinary first fortnight of this year.
In the comforts of home at Adelaide, in front of an adoring crowd, Kokkinakis rounded out his Australian Open preparations with a maiden ATP singles title, after reaching a semi-final the week previous.
Rafael Nadal might be waiting for him in a round two blockbuster next week.
“It’s a bit of a s---show, travelling,” Kokkinakis told News Corp.
“I don’t think I’ve had (the Djokovic detention) for as many days, but I did have it for a few hours in the backroom. It was just annoying, and travelling can be really difficult.
“If that was my life for the next 10 years, I’d probably just pack up shop – it wasn’t much fun.”
Kokkinakis is again the talk of Australian tennis, a throwback to his introduction to the world as a teenage hotshot eight years ago.
Roger Federer, Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios were among the big stars to congratulate him and revel in his breakthrough Adelaide win.
Kokkinakis’ journey to this point was a wild one of sponsors jumping on and off, as well as skyscraping highs and crippling lows.
Between titanic victories over the likes of Federer – a positive memory in Miami – Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych, constant injuries derailed his hugely promising career.
He played the Australian Open boys’ final against Nick Kyrgios with a back stress fracture and his other ailments range from glandular fever, a career-threatening shoulder injury, pectoral tears and abdominal, groin, knee and elbow issues.
After reaching his career-high ranking of No.69 months after his 19th birthday, Kokkinakis started this year – at age 25 – as the world No.171 and having spent most of 2021 toiling at Challenger level.
“You kind of walk around the cafes, locker rooms and tennis centres and see people who used to stop you for a chat, just walk straight past,” he said.
“Then all of a sudden when you get a few wins, it switches around again. I remember that and kind of have a little smirk about it, but it is what it is.
“Everyone loves a winner. When you’re winning, everything’s rosy, but when you’re not, everyone’s pretty quick to jump off.”
Kokkinakis’ family, closest friends and coaches – Todd Langman and Todd Ley – were among the exclusive group to remain by his side through thick and thin.
Strength and conditioning guru Jona Segal, formerly North Melbourne’s high performance boss, joined Team Kokkinakis a year ago and helped remedy the injury woes.
They mapped out a plan at the start of last year to play 25 tournaments. Kokkinakis ended up competing in 27.
There’s been more emphasis on rest days and being aware of his aches and pains.
“It was about knowing when to kind of hold back, especially being my first full year getting back on tour,” he said.
“I had to rein it in a little bit and be a bit more careful, week to week.”
Kokkinakis gained new respect last year for the so-called battlers on the Challenger Tour but also wants to leave that “depressing” environment behind.
His blistering fortnight in Adelaide means he will start the Australian Open ranked No.103. He was last inside the top 100 almost six years ago.
So how far does Kokkinakis think he can go?
“I don’t think I can put a ranking limit or anything on what I can do,” he said.
“I might have reached my peak, I might not have, but I personally think I’ve got a lot more to give.
“It’s hard, because there are a lot of guys you think, ‘How did he make top 10’ or ‘I beat this guy a few years ago and he made top 20’.
“Then there are other guys – maybe I’m an example – where you’re like, ‘Oh, he should be at this ranking but his career high is this’, so it’s really hard to predict.”
Go to the Thirsty Camel Victoria Facebook page to watch Thanasi Kokkinakis tell a behind-the-scenes story on his defeat of Roger Federer
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