In his own words, Thanasi Kokkinakis wonders how he hasn’t “lost the plot” after enduring an extraordinarily unfortunate succession of injuries that have sidelined the tennis ace for much of the past four years.
“I don’t know how I haven’t lost the plot completely,” Kokkinakis said on the eve of his grand slam comeback at the US Open in New York.
“I guess because I know what my tennis can do, which has kept me ticking along a little bit.
“I know that hopefully when I get a clean run at it for an extended period of time, I can do some good things. That’s what’s kept me motivated.”
The Australian Davis Cup hero’s run of outs began with Christmas-time shoulder surgery in 2015.
Since then, and in no particular order given even Kokkinakis has trouble documenting the time frame of each setback, the 24-year-old has suffered from elbow and knee injuries, lingering osteitis pubis and repeatedly torn pectoral, oblique and abdominal muscles.
Kokkinakis said the catalogue of injuries have left part of his body “deformed”. But he feels like he’s emerged a stronger character.
“I was in a truly rough place mentally after the shoulder surgery. That was the lowest of the lows for me,” he said.
So I felt like if I could get through that period I was in, some of these injuries – as bad as they seem, three months a piece – then all this stuff is easy for me.’’
One of only a handful of players to topple Roger Federer last year, Kokkinakis is realistic enough to have explored other career avenues if his body continues failing him.
But, for now, the US Open wildcard feels strong and confident he can go five sets against Belarusian qualifier Ilya Ivashka on Tuesday (Wednesday AEST), then back up for the second round if need be against either Rafael Nadal or compatriot John Millman.
“My dad always wants me to pick up a subject at university and I think if a few more injuries come, that might be a path I’ll go down,” Kokkinakis said.
“But I’m young at the moment, so I’ve still got a bit of a window and I feel like I’ve missed the first part of my career a little bit.
“I started when I was young, so I’m going to give tennis a crack for as long as I can.
“Wins and losses for me aren’t the be-all and end-all. It’s about trying to be consistently healthy and giving myself a fair crack.”
Meanwhile, hometown hero Steve Johnson is vowing to avoid being dragged out of his comfort zone and into any Nick Kyrgios theatrics when the two mates joust in the first round of the US Open on Tuesday night.
Johnson considers himself seasoned enough not to get distracted by his opponent’s antics.
“You’ve just really got to focus on what you’re trying to accomplish, what’s working, what’s not working, what you can fix,” Johnson said.
“So I’m just going to try and focus on my side of the net and he’s going to do what he’s going to do. If I can control my side, I feel pretty confident in my abilities.”
Friendly with Kyrgios off court, Johnson doesn’t expect any dramas from the Australian anyway and is more concerned about coping with the two-time major quarter-finalist’s firepower and finesse.
Despite the spotlight being on his behaviour after another signature meltdown, in Cincinnati two weeks ago, Kyrgios boasts a tour-best five-from-seven record against top-10 rivals in 2019, as well as two hardcourt titles.
“He’s one of the best servers in the game, extremely talented,” Johnson said of the 28th seed.
“Mentally, you know it’s any given day (how he performs). He has the talent to be a top-five guy, in my opinion.
“But this is a hard sport; it’s hard to put your best foot forward every day and that’s what we all try and do.
“He’s a super nice guy. I always enjoy my time with him.
“Off the court, he just loves to talk basketball and we kind of hang out, so it’s going to be a fun one.”
AUSTRALIANS IN ACTION – DAY TWO (WEDNESDAY AEST):
Men’s singles, first round
28-Nick Kyrgios v Steve Johnson (USA)
John Millman v 2-Rafael Nadal (ESP)
Jordan Thompson v Joao Sousa (POR)
Alexei Popyrin v Federico Delbonis (ARG)
Thanasi Kokkinakis v Ilya Ivashka (BLR)
Women’s singles, first round
Ajla Tomljanovic v Maria Kouzkova (CZE)
Astra Sharma v Magda Linette (POL)