Tennis young gun Thanasi Kokkinakis faces a battle as much with the mind as the body as he fights to return to the court after a depressing year with crippling injuries.
Australian Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt says Kokkinakis remains only a “touch and go” prospect to make a comeback this summer despite the 20-year-old’s eagerness to return.
But even when he does finally return, Hewitt says fans shouldn’t expect miracles from the one-time world No.69.
Kokkinakis underwent shoulder surgery to his right serving arm last Christmas and played just one match in 2016 – a first-round loss at the Rio Olympics – before tearing a pectoral muscle.
“He’s still having ups and downs in training at the moment, so I’m not a hundred per cent sure when he’ll probably be back,” Hewitt said.
“He’s still going to be touch and go for the Aussie summer and it’s going to be a tough road for him early on. I don’t think we can come back and expect him to pick up where he took off.”
Former world No.1 John Newcombe wasn’t so long ago predicting Kokkinakis would be better than Nick Kyrgios.
A series of giant-killing wins over top-20 stars and a valiant French Open first-round display against Novak Djokovic only added to the hype.
Hewitt and Newcombe remain convinced Kokkinakis will be back, but suspect the battle is equally psychological as physical.
“The shoulder’s such a big part. Touch wood, I never really had any real shoulder issues, but you see some of those guys and it is obviously tough to come back from,” Hewitt said.
“Pat (Rafter) obviously had a lot of shoulder problems and it is a tough injury. More so for Thanasi as well because he missed so much tennis and he probably thought it was going to be maybe a three, four-month injury and it’s turned into a whole year now.
“But he’s got so much talent. He’s such a good kid. He’s the perfect person to hopefully bring other juniors up with him as well.
“So I have no doubt but I’m certainly not putting any pressure on him to be up there within six months to a year.
“I think it’s going to be a longer-term process.”
Kokkinakis hasn’t given up hope of contesting this month’s Australian Open wildcard playoff in Melbourne, but the Brisbane International early in the new year remains more realistic.
“It would be great if we saw Thanasi fit and survive through the Australian summer because he’ll be just raring to go,” Newcombe said.
“So I’d love to see him have a great year next year.”