At the start of the year, Thanasi Kokkinakis had only made one ATP Tour semi-final in his injury-riddled career. After advancing to the last four at the Adelaide International 2 on Thursday, the Australian has reached two semi-finals in as many weeks to begin 2022, a positive sign for the 25-year-old.
“Super stoked for the start of the year obviously. Spoke earlier, my goal is to try to stay healthy and give myself a chance. After having a deep run last week, I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull up,” Kokkinakis said. “I was in two minds: Do I play this week or go to Melbourne and freshen up, get ready for [the] AO [Australian Open]?
“My thing was I didn’t want to take these tour events for granted. I know how few and far between they were last year. Mentally I was cooked after last week, but if I can get physically to a point where I’m okay to start next week, hopefully with the home crowd and everything, I’ll find it.”
The Australian is not regretting his decision. From 2019 through 2021, Kokkinakis earned just five tour-level wins. Now he has six in less than two weeks. He has a chance to continue his hot streak against former World No. 3 Marin Cilic on Friday.
Most importantly for a player who has dealt with various injuries and illnesses since breaking onto the circuit eight years ago, Kokkinakis is feeling well physically.
“Honestly considering, [I feel] pretty good. Obviously I’m feeling a few things, but nothing serious. Just some niggles from playing. That’s what happens when you play at a high level day in, day out. Nothing serious,” Kokkinakis said. “My sleep’s horrendous. I have trouble with getting to sleep, especially after late matches. My adrenaline is pumping. That’s a tough bit, trying to recover.
“It’s weird. It kind of feels like I’ve played a Grand Slam because it’s been two weeks in the same hotel, same venue. It is like I’m getting déjà vu every day. I’m not used to playing this many matches in two weeks, especially at this level.”
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The No. 145 player in the ATP Rankings knew he had a good opportunity on Thursday against countryman Aleksandar Vukic. That paired with the excitement of the Australian Open draw being released added pressure to the moment.
But after letting slip the first set in the tie-break, Kokkinakis gave himself a wakeup call — literally.
“I did slap myself in the face. I have a bit of a headache because I hit myself in the head with my racquet a few times. Probably harder than I should have. I reckon I’m feeling it, to be honest,” Kokkinakis said. “It’s alright. It got me into it. I was able to refocus, play a bit sharper tennis. It’s tough, it was a mindset shift.
“Yesterday I felt like I was playing with house money. If I lose to Isner serving like that, sometimes he can take at racquet out of your hands. If I get to Melbourne, I’m fine. I woke up this morning, and I felt a little bit of a different pressure.”
Kokkinakis will reach his second ATP Tour final (2017 Los Cabos) if he upsets Cilic. But the Australian, who is charging back towards the world’s Top 100, is keeping things in perspective. Pressing too hard for those accomplishments is not always the answer.
“It’s going to take care of itself hopefully. I’m just trying to win the match ahead of me. That’s all I can do,” Kokkinakis said. “That is how I try to bring myself back to it. I am like, ‘Would I try to play this point any different thinking about ranking or am I just going to try to win the point?’
“You have to set small goals for yourself, otherwise it can kind of cripple you. I think I was a victim of that a little bit last year. Through a lot of matches, I was like, ‘I need this win. I want to get back to the [top] hundred so bad. I need to get to these wins.’ I wasn’t able to play to my level.”