Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis is one win away from claiming his first ATP tournament triumph

Thanasi Kokkinakis remembers being a wide-eyed child watching his hometown tennis tournament in Adelaide, delighted to catch a stray ball fired into the crowd by Jon-Wilfried Tsonga’s racquet.

It was the time, he thought, when he thought to himself how cool it would be to win a title like that – but he could never really convince himself that it would really happen one day.

Well, on Saturday night at Memorial Drive, that dream could come true for the hometown boy who has been quite simply the best story in Australian tennis this year.

Because, after an 11-year roller coaster career in which he soared to the heights as a teenage ‘phenomenon’ and plunged into the depths with injuries that nearly persuaded him to quit, he’s at a match to win the first ATP Tour title.

“That would be huge. Not the alpha and omega [as] there are many great players who have never won a title [but]of course I’m thinking about it,” admitted Kokkinakis, 25, who will face Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech in the final of the Adelaide International.

He was speaking shortly after an extraordinary and nerve-wracking semi-final triumph in which he wasted six match points and had to save two before defeating former US Open champion Marin Cilic 6- 2, 3-6, 7-6 (12-10).

When asked where that ranks in his stop-start career, the man who once tamed Roger Federer in Miami, reflected: “Right up there, I think.

“To do it in Adelaide too, just past the last few years I’ve had, yeah, I mean, that’s probably number one.

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“Beating quality players last week and this week. Proud of my consistency. Proud of my mental effort.”

It was indeed an astonishing start to the year for a player whose struggles with a myriad of shoulder, chest, groin, knee and elbow injuries interrupted what had promised to be a dazzling career.

Perhaps that could still be the case, as the man who started the year ranked No. 171 in the world could jump a few places out of the top hundred if he wins the final. The last time he was in this bracket was six years ago.

Kokkinakis reached the semi-final of the first Australian Open warm-up tournament in Adelaide last week and has now won seven from eight matches in 2022 to make his first ATP final in five years.

“I think the most important thing for my confidence is just being able to step back and do it game after game. That’s something I haven’t proven in a long time. To do it for consecutive weeks is awesome.” said Kokkinakis.

He had actually thought about missing this week’s event. “But I can’t pass up an opportunity to play another tour event in my hometown,” he smiled, admitting his only problem had been getting enough sleep with all the excitement of the end of evening.

Now he could go into next week’s Open with that first title to his name even though he thinks world number 58 Rinderknech, another big server, will take all the hits.

AAP

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