He more than held his own against world No9 Kei Nishikori before falling in four sets on Tuesday, but Thanasi Kokkinakis admits he wanted to quit tennis just a week and a half ago as the young Aussie continues to fight away doubts while recovering from injuries.
Playing in his first Grand Slam match since the 2015 US Open, Kokkinakis bowed out of the French Open first round with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 to Nishikori. No competitor enjoys defeat but the 21-year-old can take so much from those four sets against the Japanese No8 seed.
Just a few days after considering walking away from the sport, Kokkinakis got to play in front of a buoyant crowd on Court 1 at Roland Garros, and seriously tested a top-10 player. Still it’s the pain in his body that keeps surrounding him with conflicting feelings.
“I was saying to my coach, you have some sessions where I’m doubting myself so much – I felt like quitting after one of the sessions honestly,” Kokkinakis told Sport360 following his first round exit.
“I was really frustrated a couple of times. That was like a week ago, a week and a half ago.
“But since that point, I had one more bad session after that. But then since that I was playing really well in practice, and that’s just the ups and downs of a tennis player.
“But I was serious, I was thinking about it for a few weeks, I was like ‘I don’t know how much my body can take after every practice session’.
“I’m not feeling great early in practice sessions, so – again that’s the biggest thing, my shoulder’s been good, I just have to sort out my hips, see what’s going on there.
“It’s real frustrating. But then obviously matches like today, with a good crowd. And seeing that I felt like 90, 95 per cent of them wanted me to win, so that’s how I felt anyway, and I think that showed by the roar after.
“Matches like that make me think ‘hang on, you’re not that far away, if you just stick to it, you’ll be there’.”
Kokkinakis, who has been fighting off a series of injuries dating back to 2015, played his first singles match since the Rio Olympics last week in Lyon. It was a first round loss to Denis Istomin.
It was after that defeat that Kokkinakis thought about quitting.
“Again I put high expectations of myself because I know how well I can play when I’m feeling okay,” he explains. “I thought about it (quitting) a couple of times and I was pretty serious, I said it to my coach. I usually never crack the shits in practice but I broke a couple of racquets, I was frustrated, that’s very unlike me and I haven’t thought about that for a while.
“So to have a match today (against Nishikori) like that and to play pretty well considering what I’ve done in practice, or the lack of practice I’ve had, it’s been good.”
Kokkinakis had to deal with shoulder, abdominal and groin injuries over the past 18 or so months, and while he says his shoulder – which required surgery – is now fine, it’s his hips that are causing him a bit of trouble.
“I know there’s match soreness but there’s a little bit more than soreness I think going on at the moment,” he says of his hip issues. “I’m going to try to sort that out, it could be normal, I’m not sure. I’m going to have a couple of lighter days. I haven’t played four sets in forever.”
For the grass season ahead, Kokkinakis plans on playing s-Hertogenbosch, Queens, The Boodles event and Wimbledon, if his body allows him to.
For now, he can take positives from being competitive again on a tennis court, and from the support he got from the crowd.
What about the support from the locker room? Surely many players were happy to see him back after such a lengthy absence?
“Yes for sure, it’s been good from the people. But if I’m being 100 per cent honest, a lot of people say that, but then at the same time it’s like one less person they have to worry about,” he says. “So I don’t know if I’m looking at it the right way, but as a competitor, yeah you have your friends on tour, obviously I’ve got a couple that I’m closer with than others – it’s good seeing they’re happy you’re back but at the same time they don’t want you to beat their player as well, or them, so it works a bit of both ways – that’s how I look at it anyway.”