What a difference a few years can make especially for Thanasi Kokkinakis. The 2019 Australian Open was painful for fans to watch and more so for the Australian to play. He was forced to withdraw at the first round match against Japan's Taro Daniel because of a shoulder injury.
The injury was unfortunately recurring and after adequate treatment and rest during the 2019 US Open it flared up again. He had said on social media "Cannot describe how angry and frustrated I am right now. Having to pull out tonight after working so hard to get back to this point."
Looking back over his tennis livelihood he's revealed that "I have never actually played a full schedule in my career..." Kokkinakis had commented to the media after bowing from retirement with Daniel.
It was after the injury he thought he'd continue then he started feeling ill
"..I just felt knackered...I got a blood test and my tonsils were messed up.
I was told I had glandular fever." The mononucleosis had lasted well into last year along with feeling painful from his shoulder ailment, but now he's back. He has started up his career again and has won his opening round against another Asian, South Korea's Soon-woo Kwon in three straight sets 6-4, 6-1, 6-1.
It seems like a miracle to see the tall 24-year-old Australian gliding onto the court, hitting down-the-lines and pounding serves and accumulating aces, 19 to be exact against Soon-woo. It has been a long time that he was in the top 70s and since injuries and illness has got to now dig himself out of the top 270s.
Kokkinakis received a wild card going into the Australian Open and has earned every bit of it so far, so good. He was a striking force this go round as he simply had the tactics and strategy to overpower and outthink his South Korean opponent.
This is the first time in a while that Kokkinakis ever got past the opening round in Australia but the first also at plaing Soon-woo Kwon. At least there were no statistics to strive doing better at and players can just come on and throw their talents on court to see what and how it's returned.
The adjustments have been numerous for opponents are younger, stronger and more defiant to rise to a higher ranking making players practice and do their utmost physically to get ready for matches. Kokkinakis had to get used to practicing hard and playing in the Pandemic.
The testing could be frustrating but playing in 'a bubble' was very different and difficult. Kokkinakis had joked but was frank saying back in October "Just trying not to lose my mind here in lockdown." It was from the start that the Australian came on dominant in his strategies finding the open court and banging out winners on a stunned and oftentimes off-balanced Soon-woo.
As the sets continued so did the Aussie's mindset and mantra to prove he was back in his element again and willing to show his fans and countrymen just that on Court 3 in Melbourne. Despite Kwon giving his aggressive opponent many gifts with unforced errors or weak returns, Kokkinakis was just point on at playing well and spreading a mantra of confidence mixed in with a bit of defiance to win his first rounder.
"..I'm going to figure it out at some point and it will all be worth it..." the Aussie had said a few years ago after sustaining all of his illnesses and injuries. But it seems like the start of 2021 may be something good as he can feel appreciative of winning his opening round in Melbourne and maybe can stay healthy and go deep into the tournament -- finally.