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“I’m 100% fit.”

Those are words that we are unfortunately not used to hearing from one of Australia’s most talented players - Thanasi Kokkinakis.

“This is probably the first pre-season I’ve had in a long time without any hiccups as well, which is massive,” Kokkinakis told The First Serve.

With a spring in his step, those are the words that the 25-year-old used to describe his fitness levels as he embarks on the 2022 Australian summer of tennis.

And knowing what he is capable of when fully fit, it’s hard not to feel a sense of excitement and bullishness about his chances in the upcoming summer of tennis.

For the first time in six years, the South Australian competed in more than 20 tournaments in 2021 and was recognised for his comeback by being nominated for the comeback player of the year award by the ATP.

“I knew it was going to be a gruelling, grind of a year.”

“What I wasn’t prepared for was the ranking just not moving, even when you feel like you’re winning a lot of matches. That was the toughest part,” Kokkinakis told The First Serve.

Kokkinakis finished the season at 171 in the ATP Rankings, and if it weren’t for an adjusted ranking system brought in during the COVID-19 pandemic, he would be ranked even higher.

“It’s massive (the adjusted ranking system). I was looking at the rankings thinking how is this guy still ranked ahead of me? It screwed me around a little bit,” Kokkinakis stated.

Because Kokkinakis missed the entire 2020 season, the adjusted system came as a disadvantage, and not rising up the ranks as much as he could’ve in a regular season meant not being able to compete in as many tour-level events as he would’ve liked.

“If my ranking was what it usually would be, I would’ve been able to get myself into tour qualifying and build my way up that way. That’s how I originally broke into the top 100," Kokkinakis explained.

But the talented Australian isn’t dwelling on what could have been. He is firmly set on getting his ranking back inside the top 100 in 2022.

“My goal is 100% to get back into the top 100 pretty quickly and I’m not stopping there,” Kokkinakis exclaimed.

Navigating his way past the second round of The Australian Open for the first time would be an ideal start, but to compete in the main draw of the Australian Open without having to go through qualifying, Kokkinakis requires a wildcard.

With four wildcards still vacant in the men's main draw, Kokkinakis is a likely recipient. But Tennis Australia still hasn’t decided whom they will go to.

“I haven’t been told anything,” Kokkinakis revealed.

“When Wally (Masur) called me and gave me the Adelaide one, I obviously asked him about the AO and what was going ahead. I just said, mate honestly I hope I’m not having this conversation with you in 12 months time. Hopefully, this is the last time if I get one that I need one.”

“I don’t really want to make a case for myself, but I feel like I won a lot of matches this year. I think winning more matches than anyone who’s up for a wildcard this year and being number one in the race puts me in a pretty good position,” Kokkinakis explained.

With only four wildcards available, Alex Bolt, Aleksandar Vukic, Max Purcell and Christopher O’Connell are also eagerly awaiting confirmation, and unfortunately one will miss out.

Tennis Australia has told the five players that they will need to impress in the opening week of the season as they make the final call.

"I think I’ve done enough, I hope I have. I love the support playing in Melbourne. It's an unbelievable atmosphere and I feel like I’ve had some of my best wins here. I’d love one (a wildcard). ” Kokkinakis said.

A fellow Australian whose career shares similarities to that of Kokkinakis’ is James Duckworth. And Duckworth is a player Kokkinakis has grown closer to and been able to gain inspiration from in his comeback to the tour.

“Ducks has always been open as far as injury goes. He’s asked me for advice on some things and I’ve asked him for advice on some things, we keep in touch a fair bit on the road,” said Kokkinakis.

After enduring a plethora of surgeries over the years, like Kokkinakis, Duckworth managed a full season in 2021 and saw a significant rise up the ranks to a career-high 49.

“I’m really happy for him and really proud of him, he’s done bloody well. To do what he’s done this year is a testament to his work ethic and his professionalism. He ticks all the boxes as far as off-court stuff goes. He doesn’t leave much to chance and it showed. If you’re locked in day in day out, who knows what your ceiling can be,” Kokkinakis added.

As he ramps up his training in preparation for the upcoming summer of tennis, Kokkinakis has been training with a fellow South Australian, and close friend - Li Tu, who also made a comeback to the tour in 2021.

“I’ve known Li since we were seven years old, we’ve always been really close. It’s great to see him back playing some great tennis. He’s always been talented, always hit the ball well.”

Tu opened his 2021 campaign with a wildcard into the Australian Open after impressing on the UTR circuit in 2020, despite being unranked in the ATP Rankings.

“His game is there, he’s shown his level, he just needs to back it up. I was really proud of him for getting overseas last year and grinding it out in Tunisia, I respect the hustle from him, that’s what you’ve gotta do. Hopefully, he can keep pushing, I’m not going to put a ceiling on what he can do,” Kokkinakis commented.

Looking ahead to the upcoming season, one element Kokkinakis hopes to adopt in his game is a more relaxed brand of tennis, which he believes will accelerate his rise up the ranks.

“I’m hoping to play more relaxed. I put a lot of pressure on myself this year and lost a lot of tight matches because of it. I went through this crazy stretch where I lost every tiebreaker I got into, it felt like for three or four tournaments in a row, it was just in my head. I was training well and then I’d find myself tightening up in matches, not playing as free as what I’m capable of. I lost so many tight matches against high-quality opposition where I actually won more points, but you know in tennis sometimes that doesn’t mean anything," Kokkinakis said cheekily.

“I want to play more relaxed and more freely, not only to get myself back into the top 100 but hopefully the top 50 at least,” Kokkinakis stated.

Kokkinakis will open his 2022 campaign at the Adelaide International this week, where he has been drawn to face fellow Australian John Millman in a mouthwatering first-round clash.


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