Gallagher: Future tennis star Kokkinakis climbing up from Down Under
Odlum Brown VanOpen: Big serving Aussie trying to help his country get back to tennis dominance
Virtually every match you play on the ATP Tour, whether it’s a Grand Slam event or just a challenger, the guy across from you is capable of winning no matter who you might be.
But surely you’ll really be feared as a player if your fitness trainer happens to be named Peter Punisher.
Well, actually, that was a joke Thanasi Kokkinakis and his team played on the ATP people, yanking their chain in the true Aussie tradition of having fun with the game.
But his fitness guy Rory Sinclair is travelling with him for good reason. The 18-year-old kid has already had stress fractures of the back on both sides, though, thankfully, he figures he’s over the worst.
Where he would be without having had six months off totalling a year is anyone’s guess but he says “it’s helped a little in that it’s kept me under the radar for a bit, and that’s fine because I know I’m going to be there eventually.”
One of the horde of promising young Australian players who are trying to do all they can to forge profitable careers and revitalize the game for a country which dominated the sport in ’60s, Kokkinakis is full of personality, easy to talk to and full value for his status — along with Nick Kyrgios as Australian officials’ choice — for the next big star from the country.
Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe and Fred Stolle were once the Gods of the game back in the ’60s, but it may not be too terribly long before the likes of John-Patrick Smith, James Duckworth, Luke Saville, Kyrgios and Kokkinakis begin getting themselves into similar standing among the world’s elite.
Kokkinakis flashed some of the talent which everyone so excited Tuesday night at the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open at Hollyburn Country Club when he dropped his first service game to second-seeded Jimmy Wang in both sets, showed a little agitation that one would expect from a kid this age, then regained his composure to go on for a 7-5,6-4 opening-round victory that will move his ranking up to the point where he will be straight into U.S. Open qualifying.
Blessed with a big serve and outstanding mobility for a 6-foot-5 player, Kokkinakis seems to have all the tools necessary to make the kind of breakthrough Kyrgios made in June at Wimbledon where he beat Richard Gasquet and Rafa Nadal on his way to the quarter-finals before falling to Milos Raonic, who was enjoying his finest Grand Slam showing himself.
Having already battled his way up to 216 in the ATP rankings before this tournament including a 27-player jump last week in Lexington, Ky., the kid is on a mission to stardom.
“It took me a little bit the get used to the courts; it’s a lot slicker, one of the quickest I’ve played on,” Kokkinakis said with the traditional charming accent after the win over Wang, who’s been on form lately.
“I’ve been working on trying to stay composed, and not get to down on myself, or even too pumped up. I actually thought I had a pretty good mental performance there tonight.”
Having already impressed local officials with his courteous and co-operative behaviour, Kokkinakis seems more than capable of carrying on the tradition of Aussie gentlemen who play the sport.
“I’ve met most of them, and they’ve been very supportive,” he said of the tennis legends, mindful of what great guys they all were to everyone they met and how he wishes to continue that tradition no matter how successful he gets.
“There’s no point in being arrogant; it just makes people like you less. You can have a bit of confidence there’s no doubt about that, you need it. But at the end of the day it’s only tennis, and it’s better to be a better person. I try to be myself, work and just win tournaments. My brother (Panayoti) keeps me grounded. He’s good for me. He keeps me mentally fresh and is my biggest fan at the same time.”
It’s still not clear which of the wave of young Aussies will have the best career but there’s no doubt most will make a lot of money at the game.
“That’s the new generation, a new crop of players coming through and hopefully we can all keep pushing each other to make it to the top,” he said. “We all got the talent, we just need to keep working hard, stay focused, play the right tournaments and schedule and keep our level up and hopefully it will come.”
Nike thinks it will. Such is his reputation and charm, they’ve already invested enough in him to cover his travel, coaches and trainers, a dream for players at his level.
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