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In the tennis world Manama, Bahrain is three weeks and a million miles from Melbourne Park.

The small island nation which sits along the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is hardly known as tennis heartland but for Thanasi Kokkinakis that matters little.

The talented and much-loved Australian was on a mission last week to scoop up invaluable ranking points and set himself up for a career-best season.

The 26-year-old has battled his body for much of the journey so far but after a plethora of injury setbacks he’s fit, healthy and ready to make his mark on the ATP Tour.

His long-time coach, travelling companion and friend Todd Langman reflects on last week’s fifth Challenger title triumph for his charge, a week which included victories over fellow Australian, Alexei Popyrin and former top-30 veteran, Jan-Lennard Struff.

“We knew he wouldn’t be playing his best tennis… he’d had a bit of soreness in his pectoral (muscle) so he probably wasn’t playing at his full capability but it was pretty promising to see him get a big win at a 125 Challenger without him playing at his full potential.

“His body has been really strong and Jonah Segal (Kokkinakis’ fitness trainer) has a really good read on his body. It was just soreness from not playing many matches over the last month. Match load is a different beast.”

Langman has spent years traveling the world with Kokkinakis but he explains there have been several lessons learnt over the past 12 months.

“Last summer was amazing with Thanasi winning the doubles at the Open and also winning the singles in Adelaide. The previous year was quite tough so when he won the doubles last year, you don’t normally get much time to celebrate the wins and I think he just wanted to celebrate and enjoy the win with family and friends. Looking back, he probably left (Australia) a little too early and his heart wasn’t quite in it.”

“Last year he played minimal tournaments (16) and he realises that’s nowhere near enough if he wants to make a ranking gain and hopefully be seeded at the bigger tournaments.

“He’s ready to play this year and his focus is on singles. He’ll play some doubles with Nick (Kyrgios) but he’s focussed on making it all count and leaving it all out there.”

Langman also explained why it was an important year for Kokkinakis to climb the rankings.

“Next year we’ve got the Olympics and he needs to get his ranking up to get into the Olympic team.

“He’s done a great job so far this year in defending the points from early last year.

“It would be great to see him inside the top 50 and then he’s just one big result away from anything being possible. We will just try and put the consistent effort out each week and the ranking will take care of itself.

Another focus for Kokkinakis this year will be tackling the clay season head-on and fulfilling his full potential on a surface which provided him with some solid results at an early age.

“He likes the clay a lot.

“I’ve always thought he could be really good on the clay and he’s got a hell of a forehand so the clay is something we want to have a big stint on.

“After Miami we will hit the clay and try and get five or six tournaments under his belt before the French Open. We will be trying to get those clay legs ready.”

Some self-reflection in recent times has also helped the coach himself, Langman explaining how he’s grown in the role.

“Early on in my coaching career I was trying to overcoach but now with the experience that I’ve got I understand when and what makes Thanasi tick.

“(It’s about) Understanding when to be the friend and when to put the coach’s hat on. You can be the world’s greatest coach but if you don’t have a great relationship with the player and the rest of the team then it makes it challenging.

“We get on really well as a team and Jonah has been a great addition.

“I know when Thanasi is getting better in a match, it’s when we are getting up. Sometimes he can get a little bored in the match so I have to yell at him and he really feeds off that.”

The Kokkinakis game will need to rise again next week though, as the team jump on a plane and head across to Dubai for an ATP 500 where a host of the sport’s biggest names and brightest talents are waiting.


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