Sadly fading into Australian tennis’s forgotten man, Thanasi Kokkinakis can’t wait for a seemingly cursed 2016 to end and farewell “the worst year of my life”.
The injury-riddled South Australian played just one competitive match, at the Rio Olympics, as shoulder, pectoral and groin injuries grounded the exciting 20-year-old.
As counterparts Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic stayed in the headlines, for both the wrong and right reasons, Kokkinakis just couldn’t break out of his injury-rehab-injury cycle.
“It was the worst year of my life, for sure,” he said. “I don’t want to be dramatic but it was, it was absolutely horrendous.
“Really there was nothing positive about it, apart from playing the Olympics which was a cool experience.”
As a measure of his “nightmare” year, Kokkinakis spent the past five months battling osteitis pubis, which came as a result of his own frustrations in straining his pec before the US Open.
He revealed he flew straight home from America and ran 12-13km each day in the hope of getting fitter on his feet.
“I was pissed off,” he said. “It was more out of anger. I thought if my upper body is no good I’ll try and get fit with my lower body … and then sure enough I get that.”
Rated among the top two teenagers on the men’s tour when he became world No.69 in June 2015, he now enters 2017 without an official ranking.
An injury-protected ranking of 81 allows him some comfort to enter the grand slams, as well as four other tournaments in the coming year.
The long-awaited ATP comeback will start humbly at the Brisbane International next week when he plays doubles with fellow Olympian Jordan Thompson, before cranking up for some singles action in Sydney as a warm-up to his third Australian Open appearance.
With such a terrible recent injury history, Kokkinakis is quick to admit he may be biting off more than he can chew by rushing back into a grand slam, but that’s his way.
“It’s pretty stupid to think I can go best of five (sets) but I’m pretty stubborn,” he said.
“At the moment I’m just trying to wake up each morning and feel no aches.”
To be fair, his body looks stronger, putting extra weight and muscle on his 196cm frame, and he moved swiftly and freely in practice sets with Rio teammate John Millman at the Queensland Tennis Centre on Friday.
Both players were training under the watchful eye of Davis Cup coach Lleyton Hewitt, as well as Jason Stoltenberg, as a measure of the interest surrounding Kokkinakis’s return.
Queenslander Millman, a local drawcard in Brisbane, has battled frustrations of his own with hip injuries forcing him to forego a wildcard into his home tournament, which was on Friday passed on to Sam Groth.
Kokkinakis said he was very close to entering the singles alongside Tomic in Brisbane, where Rafael Nadal is the headline act, and remains encouraged by his one 2016 appearance – losing 6-7 6-7 to Gastao Elias in Rio when he was underdone and not expecting to get close.
But there’s no talk of rankings targets for 2017, just one major goal.
“Health, that’s literally it,” he said. “I know my level and know I can get back up there pretty quick but you can’t do that if you’re not on the court.
“It’s only up from here.”