Last year’s five-set loss to Andy Murray burnt deep within the stomach of Thanasi Kokkinakis all year.
Up two sets to love and serving for the match at 5-4, Kokkinakis failed to capitalise on his opportunities and was eventually defeated by Murray in a five-hour, 45-minute heartbreaker.
That match finished past 4am in the morning at Melbourne Park, as a devasted Kokkinakis was left to lick his wounds.
The big-hitting Australian is accustomed to tough times and has faced his fair share of heartbreak, including a luckless run of injuries. He first injured his shoulder in 2015, followed by groin, pectoral, elbow and more shoulder injuries among the challenges he has had to withstand.
At the time of his injury troubles, it left the then-21-year-old considering retirement and giving up the game he loves. Fast forward six years, the now-27-year-old is ranked in the top 100 and delivering some of the best results of his career.
Kokkinakis posted on X in the wake of his disappointing loss to Murray that read, “This f***ing sport man,” with a picture of him looking dejected. Though a simple message, it quite appropriately summed up his career.
With his injuries preventing him from reaching his full potential for so long, the sport he fell in love with as a child has taken him to hell and back, making him question if it has all been worth it.
Almost a year to the day of the Murray loss, Kokkinakis was once again locked in another fierce five-set battle against 37th ranked Sebastian Ofner.
After conceding the first set in a tiebreaker, the huge hitting Austrian began to overwhelm the Australian as he took the next two sets 6-2 and 7-6 in another tiebreaker.
Despite having the upper hand, Ofner’s emotions constantly ran wayward throughout the match and it started to get the better of him in the fourth set with things unravelling quickly.
Kokkinakis took that set to force it into a fifth and final set to decide the match, a circumstance he was familiar with from last year’s Australian Open. With no player giving an inch and breathtaking tennis being played from both ends of the court, a grandstand finish beckoned.
In a long final set, it was Kokkinakis who prevailed 10-8 in the match tiebreak while atoning for the demons of his past.
Kokkinakis knew it would be a challenge to push into the second round.
“I wish I could do it easier, but I can’t,” he grinningly said.
“You don’t want to know what was in my head, there was serious demons in there. It’s just trying to find a way on this court.
“Tennis is mental… uh I won’t swear, it’s tough out here.”
Now more than ever, he seems to be the master of his own destiny. Just how far can the Aussie go in front of his passionate home fans?
However, another tough challenge looms in the second round against the in-form Grigor Dimitrov, a test he is no doubt up for at his best.
“Grigor is a hell of a player, been doing this for a while and he’s in some great form right now,” Kokkinakis said.
“I back myself. I hopefully can have your support; the crowd is unbelievable. I’ve beaten higher-ranked players before.”
“It is about coming out on the day and playing my best tennis, hopefully I can do that.”