World falls in love with Aussie stud
The world has fallen in love with Thanasi Kokkinakis all over again.
After just one match he'd already scored bragging rights over the most heartwarming storyline of week one at the Australian Open, winning his first match at Melbourne Park since 2015 when he beat South Korea's Kwon Soon-woo in straight sets on Tuesday.
It was Kokkinakis' first professional victory in 532 days in just his second match since September 2019 - prompting a classy message from Roger Federer.
The South Australian, who received a wildcard entry in the year's first grand slam, only enhanced his reputation on Thursday as he took on world No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas. He didn't win, but he put up one hell of a fight in a five-set thriller that ultimately ended in heartbreak.
After stunning the raging favourite by winning the first set in a tiebreak, Tsitsipas found his groove and Kokkinakis fell flat in the next two sets.
But incredibly, he channelled his inner Lleyton Hewitt to fight like crazy and win the fourth set in a tiebreak. He pumped his chest, roared with emotion and geed up the crowd as the fans on Rod Laver Arena went wild.
Early in the deciding set Kokkinakis held for a 2-1 lead after saving two break points in a game that lasted 14 minutes and featured six deuces. He refused to crumble and everyone was cheering for the man they call Kokk.
Kokkkkkkk!— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) February 11, 2021
Loving Kokkinakis.— Laura Jayes (@ljayes) February 11, 2021
Go you good thing!
But in the end Tsitsipas was too strong, outlasting his rival in the longest match of the Australian Open so far as their duel stretched for four hours and 32 minutes.
Tsitsipas was the victor but much of the reaction post-match was focused on Kokkinakis - and the incredible way in which the world No. 267 pushed a man ranked 261 places above him to the edge.
"He wasn't able to play all these years due to injuries that he had, and it was a big shame because we were missing someone who was not there with us on the tour," Tsitsipas said.
"But I'm very happy to see him back competing at a very high level."
Tennis writer Chris Oddo tweeted: "Think how good Kokkinakis could be if he could get a few years of good health and really build something. Such a good tennis player."
New York Times reporter Ben Rothenberg wrote: "Gosh I hope Thanasi Kokkinakis stays healthy. Massive, massive value add for the sport when he's around."
The official Twitter account for The Tennis Podcast added: "What a tremendous player Kokkinakis is, though. Imagine how good he can be if he can stay healthy for a full season or two."
Commentator Jose Morgado said it's "so, so good to see Kokkinakis back at this level".
The Aussie stud was on the verge of being discarded to the tennis scrap heap, one of so many players across history to be remembered as someone full of potential that was never realised.
Injuries should have killed his career. At just 24, he's already suffered serious back, knee, shoulder, groin and pec problems - not to mention a cruel bout of glandular fever that knocked him out of last year's Australian Open.
Kokkinakis was supposed to be a central figure of the Generation Next talent expected to lead the way in the aftermath of Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic's dominance.
Sadly, shocking bad luck has robbed him of that chance but against Tsitsipas he showed why he was rated as highly - if not more so - than Nick Kyrgios as the two Aussie stars burst onto the scene at the same time.
But Kokkinakis is back, and everyone's hoping it's for a long time, not just a good time.
Originally published as World falls in love with Aussie stud