Thanasi Kokkinakis is a precocious talent and in 2015, he was on the brink of breaking into the top 50 as a teenager. Three years, one surgery, and many injuries later, the 22-year-old is determined to get back to his highest level despite facing a lot of adversity.
The Australian was competing at the Surbiton Challenger last week, where he lost in the first round to Yuki Bhambri. I caught up with the Australian after that match and discussed his injury-littered career so far. It is fair to say that Kokkinakis has not had a fair crack at professional tennis and he feels the same, “It feels like up until now, every time I start to build momentum something has happened.”
On the eve of the US Open last year, the talented Australian made his first career ATP final in Los Cabos. That week seemed to be a massive step forwards for Kokkinakis, but once again his momentum was abruptly halted shortly after.
“When I made the final last year in Mexico, I tore my oblique before the US Open. Then I had a groin issue so I didn’t play after the US Open,” Kokkinakis said, “At the Australian Open I was starting to do well, I had some good matches at the Hopman Cup and then I tore my pectoral in a match in Australia.”
The 22-year-old has been dealt with some awful luck over the past few seasons and you would think 2018 would look much brighter, after his disaster in Australia. Unfortunately this was not the case and Kokkinakis suffered a freak injury in Monte Carlo, “I fell on a sponsor sign and fractured my kneecap a little bit.”
The injury was sustained during his first-round match against Karen Khachanov and it started to fear the Australian, “My knee started swelling up so I had a lot of injections, too many to count.” Thanasi Kokkinakis remains optimistic and tries to live in the present.
“I’ve just had little things that are annoying, but touch wood I’m alright now and I want to keep getting better.”
The 22-year-old’s next match would be just over a month later at the French Open, where he fell in the second round of qualifying to Jurgen Zopp–the man who defeated Jack Sock in the first round of the main draw. In spite of recently losing the opening match of his grass court season, Kokkinakis is happy to be on court, “I’m feeling okay at the moment so hopefully I can keep going.”
Due to the freak nature of the fall in Monte Carlo, doctors were unsure on what the diagnosis was. There were many possibilities and Thanasi Kokkinakis told me he even considered retirement, “When I fell [in Monte Carlo] they tested me for a torn ACL. If that was the case I would have been done to be honest.” These were very heartfelt words from the Australian.
“I would have [retired] for a couple of years unless I was bored and wanted to come back, but I would have struggled to come back from that.” Luckily for tennis fans everywhere, he did not tear his ACL.
Having suffered so many injuries, what keeps Thanasi Kokkinakis coming back for more? “I’ve got to keep working because I know what my top level is, but I also know what my bottom level is so I’ve got to stay away from my bottom level as much as I can.”
However, the Australian does admit it can be difficult at times, “It is great but I’m trying to find my motivation again because I’ve been in the cycle of rehab for so long. I need to get my head right and channel my focus.” Kokkinakis is a very optimistic individual but even he struggles from time to time.
“Staying positive is the hardest part for sure”
The 22-year-old discussed how frustrated he was with the timing of his most recent setback. “That was when I was starting to have a clean run,” the Australian said, “I played four successive tournaments in a row, which I can’t remember doing in a long, long time.”
In Miami, Kokkinakis defeated Roger Federer in a thrilling three-set match. That match was actually the last time we have seen the great Swiss on the losing end of a result. Although this win gave the Australian immense confidence, he admits his loss to Fernando Verdasco in the following round humbled him, “After you win a match like that you kind of expect it to happen, you expect to play a good match every time.”
The ATP tour has great depth and Kokkinakis is aware of this. “Everyone works hard so you have to respect everyone a little bit more.”
The 22-year-old is happy to be on the grass, but knows it is not his preferred surface, “Hard and clay are my best surfaces, but I beat Raonic at Queen’s last year so I can have good results on grass.”
The movement is often what troubles players on grass and Kokkinakis is no different, “Grass is weird, you’re always unsure on your footing.” Despite being in the grass court season, Kokkinakis admitted he is not exclusively training on the surface. “I was doing a lot of training on hard courts because it’s tough to find your rhythm and get your hitting in on grass because of the conditions.”
Although it is not his strongest surface, the Australian knows he can post solid results on grass so I asked him on what his goals were for this portion of the season, “Obviously get some wins, but the goal is to stay healthy.”
Kokkinakis spoke about how he is looking forward to the future, after the grass season, “I’m setting up for the back end of the hard court season.” This seems like a wise decision from the 22-year-old for numerous reasons. Firstly, he has not had time to get much momentum after his fall in Monte Carlo. Kokkinakis also performs best on hard courts so a big result, maybe a title, could be within reach.
“I know when I play well I can do well, but I also know when I’m not good I’m pretty bad,” the World #150 said, “I’m trying to find that balance. At the moment, the good moments are few and far between.”
When asked if he has heard of any other players struggling with injuries on tour he replied with Andy Murray, and an inspirational American, “You hear stories about Brian Baker, he’s done so many ACLs so that’s brutal for him.”
Kokkinakis is an avid basketball fan and also sees many injuries there, “I watch a lot of NBA, you see a lot of players go down and it kind of ruins their career’s at times.” The Australian feels grateful that his career is still in tact, “At the moment I haven’t had anything too freakishly bad, although I have had a surgery.”
“I feel like I’ve got enough experience myself to know what I have to do to come back.”
There is no doubting that the 22-year-old is still a formidable talent who plays well above his current ranking of #150. Lucking for us fans, the popular Australian is still playing and competing. He has been plagued with injuries of late, hopefully his luck changes and we get to see the best of Thanasi Kokkinakis.
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