Thanasi Kokkinakis recalls being a wide-eyed kid watching his hometown tennis tournament in Adelaide, thrilled to catch an errant ball fired into the crowd from the racquet of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Those were the days, he reckoned, when he’d think to himself how cool it might be to win a title like that, but could never really persuade himself that it really would happen one day.
Well, on Saturday night at Memorial Drive, that dream could be realised for the home town comeback boy who’s been simply the best story in Australian tennis this year.
For after a roller-coaster 11-year career in which he’s hit the heights as a teenage ‘fenom’ and plumbed the depths with injuries that almost persuaded him to quit, he’s one match away from lifting the first ATP Tour title.
“It would be massive. Not the be-all, end-all (as) there’s a lot of great players that have never won a title (but), for sure, I’m thinking about it,” admitted the 25-year-old Kokkinakis, who faces Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech in the Adelaide International final.
He was talking soon after an extraordinary, nerve-wracking semi-final triumph in which he squandered six match points and needed to save two of his own before downing former US Open champion Marin Cilic 6-2 3-6 7-6 (12-10).
Asked where this ranked in his stop-start career, the man who once tamed Roger Federer in Miami, pondered: “Right up there, I think.
“To do it in Adelaide as well, just after kind of the last few years I’ve had, yeah, I mean it’s probably number one.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more. To find myself in this position, beating the players I have, like a former grand slam champ, yeah, I’m stoked.
“Beating quality players last week and this week. Proud of my consistency. Proud of my mental effort.”
It has indeed been an astonishing start to the year for a player whose struggles with myriad injuries to his shoulder, chest, groin, knee, and elbow have interrupted what had promised to be a dazzling career.
Maybe it still could be as the man who began the year at 171 in the world rankings might jump to within a couple of places of the top hundred should he win the final. The last time he was in that bracket was six years ago.
Kokkinakis reached the semi-final in the first Australian Open warm-up tournament in Adelaide last week and has now made it seven wins in eight matches in 2022 to make his first ATP final for five years.
“I think the biggest thing for my confidence is just being able to back up and do it match after match. That’s something that I haven’t proven in a long time. To do it in back-to-back weeks is awesome,” said Kokkinakis.
He’d actually thought of giving this week’s event a miss. “But I can’t pass up an opportunity to play another tour event in my hometown,” he smiled, admitting that his only problem had been getting enough sleep with all the late night finish excitement.
Now he could go into next week’s Open with that maiden title to his name even if he feels world no.58 Rinderknech, another big server, will take all the beating.