Arguably the most memorable match of the season came in the second round of the Australian Open, where after five hours and 45 minutes, Andy Murray rallied past home favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis. The gruelling five-set encounter drew to a close at 4:05 a.m. in Melbourne, two hours from daybreak.
It would have been easy for Kokkinakis to fall into a slump after his defeat. The Australian let slip several leads against the former World No. 1 at his home Grand Slam, where he was pushing for a big run.
“Although it was a heartbreaking match to be honest and I had it in the bag a few times, as distraught as I was after the match, I actually really enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun out there,” Kokkinakis told ATPTour.com. “One of the only times I can say after a big loss, especially one where I was on the front foot the whole time, that I enjoyed it. Tennis is so results based that if you don’t win you’re just pissed and obviously I was pissed off, but I can look back at the summer I had and the level of tennis when I was playing at my best and try to take the positives away from that.”
Kokkinakis admitted he did not want to see a tennis racquet for a bit. But after a week, he was ready to put the Murray defeat behind him.
“I’ve gone through worse stuff than losing a tennis match from being in a winning position. In the scheme of things it hurts for a little bit, but I had a lot of good feedback, a lot of people came up to me,” Kokkinakis said. “Some idiots came up to me saying, ‘What happened?’ Not what I really wanted to talk about after, but for the most time it was encouraging signs.”
In the big picture, it has been a good start to the season for Kokkinakis. The week he was defending 250 Pepperstone ATP Rankings points at Adelaide-2, the Australian was down a break in the third set of his first-round match against Alexei Popyrin. Kokkinakis won the match and reached the final, recouping 150 of those points and later lifting an ATP Challenger Tour title in Manama, Bahrain.
“So far this year it’s taken a bloody good player to beat me, so I like to think my tennis is at a good spot,” Kokkinakis said. “I’ve just got to try and keep pushing. You’ve got to have short-term memory in tennis. There’s another chance every week almost, so you can’t dwell on things too much.”
Kokkinakis will not have to for his next match at the BNP Paribas Open, where he will face top seed Carlos Alcaraz in the second round. The Australian gushed about the 19-year-old Spaniard.
“It’s not just that he’s got no weaknesses, but he just plays with great energy. He plays tennis the right way. He’s always up and about, he’s always smiling,” Kokkinakis said. “I think the crowd loves watching him because his energy is almost contagious. He’s one of my favourite players to watch. Whenever he’s playing, I try to tune in if I’ve got time.”
The youngest World No. 1 in Pepperstone ATP Rankings history has plenty of tools Kokkinakis will need to deal with on court.
“I just like the way he plays. He’s got good firepower, he’s lightning quick, he’s got good hands,” Kokkinakis said. “I saw it a few years ago just watching some highlights of him. It’s so hard to eclipse what those legends have done in our sports with how many Slams they’ve won, but he’s definitely capable and I think he’s got a shot if he stays healthy for sure.”
Fans who have followed Kokkinakis’ road through this BNP Paribas Open might have noticed a mid-tournament change for the Australian. He got a haircut. Actually, he got two.
“I butchered it this time around. I don’t know. I asked a few people, I’m looking at reviews,” Kokkinakis said. “The first place I went to had decent reviews, then I walked in there and I didn’t see anyone under around 65 years old. I thought it was too late to pull out so I just kind of copped it in the end.”
The product was not what the World No. 94 was looking for to repair what he said looked like a “tennis ball” head. One hour later, he found another barber.
“I went to a guy who apparently had a court date later that day, so that filled me with a lot of confidence to be honest because I knew he had probably cut hair somewhere along the line,” Kokkinakis said. “I didn’t judge and he did a good cut, so I’m happy with the result.”
Now Kokkinakis can fully focus on his next opponent. Although he is full of praise for Alcaraz, the Aussie’s game packs a punch, too.
“I know my game, when it’s at my best, is capable of beating a lot of guys,” Kokkinakis said. “But I also know that consistency is the thing I struggle with, so I’m hoping to match up with the best players this year and hopefully knock a few off and see how well I can do and push far this year.”