Moments after a meritorious triumph over England’s Dan Evans in Paris on Sunday, Thanasi Kokkinakis turned to the crowd at Roland Garros and roared with sheer delight.
The South Australian was a teenager when he last felt that winning feeling at Roland Garros, way back in 2015 on the way to booking an outing against Novak Djokovic on centre court.
Much has happened in the eight years since the run that stamped Kokkinakis, who joined compatriots Jason Kubler and Storm Hunter in the second round, as a player to watch.
He has a win over Roger Federer in Miami. He claimed an Australian Open doubles title in famous fashion with his mate Nick Kyrgios. And he won an ATP title at home in Adelaide.
But abnormal bad luck with injury and struggles with homesickness and mental health has made the triumphs at grand slam level too few and far between for a player with such talent.
The 27-year-old’s 6-4 6-4 6-4 triumph over Evans, the 20th seed, was just his fifth win in 15 grand slam appearances since that promising run to the 3rd Round in Paris as a teenager.
To put that into context, Rafael Nadal has won another five Roland Garros titles in that time.
So it was no surprise Kokkinakis celebrated “a big win for me” with a smile as bright as the brilliant blue sky that greeted players and fans alike on the opening day of the French Open.
Kokkinakis is not a veteran yet and still makes some rookie mistakes. His biggest blunder on Sunday was sending all his playing shirts to the laundry, only for them to go missing.
But the right-hander, who could play Stan Wawrinka in the second round on Wednesday, is also wiser for overcoming the trials and tribulations that made his win so much sweeter.
For the first time Kokkinakis is travelling with a girlfriend, the social media influencer Hannah Dal Sasso, and he feels like he has good people around him. Maybe his time is coming.
Kokkinakis has much in common with the other three Australians who took to the sliding red clay courts of Roland Garros on the opening day in Hunter, Kubler and Kimberly Birrell.
A healthy attendance of Australian fans on site would have left impressed with the dash and dare of the quartet from Down Under as they dazzled in the sunshine on the outside courts.
Hunter claimed her first ever singles win in a grand slam by overcoming a deficit to defeat Nuria Parrizas Diaz 4-6 6-2 6-4. It was, she said, “really amazing”.
Kubler was pushed to the brink by Facundo Diaz Acosta when successful 1-6 6-3 6-4 3-6 6-1.
Birrell was beaten, though only after cramping badly against local hopeful Leolia JeanJean in an almighty tussle stretching beyond three hours in which she more than held her own.
But for all their athleticism, power and craft on court, other exceptional traits the Aussie quartet share are their resilience and sheer guts to overcome career-threatening injuries.
Each of them could have been lost to the sport, so serious were the issues they faced, if not for possessing a trait Lleyton Hewitt once described as good, old-fashioned, “ticker”.
Kubler has the knees of a crock. Hunter’s left shoulder was shagged. Birrell’s right elbow required far more than a decent amount of grease to enable her to get back on the court.
They have endured some dark moments in their careers. But overcoming those experiences served to make playing in Paris on a gorgeous day something to celebrate.
“(Today) was massive. (This) speaks to all of their toughness,” Kokkinakis said.
“Jason was the next big thing out of Australia when he was growing up, so to see where he has been, he is just a ripper bloke, and to see how well he has been playing over the last couple of years … it is a great story for us.
“When one of us is out with injury, and you see (others have success), it motivates you to come back and play better.”
Alex de Minaur, who is seeded 18 and the highest-ranked Australian on the tour, headlines the action on day two alongside Chris O’Connell and Alexei Popyrin.
On Tuesday, Sydneysiders Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson will compete against each other. All will be vying for an opportunity to play at least another match at Roland Garros.
That, Kubler said, is something to be prized. The 30-year-old awaits the winner of a clash between Felix Auger-Aliassime and Italian Fabio Fognini and cannot wait for another opportunity to shine.
“I just turned 30 a week ago, so right now I am really chasing the moments on the tennis courts,” he said.
“When I retire, I want to have played the best players on the biggest courts, so either way,
Felix or Fabio, it is going to be a great match and a great crowd.
“Hopefully it is going to be a match that I can remember for a long time and keep it always in the back of my mind.”