Kokko-pops. Here comes the Special K.

27 Feb

Thanasi Kokkinakis, Brisbane, 2014. GETTY IMAGES

Thanasi Kokkinakis: an eye on the future.

You would be excused for thinking young Aussie tennis player Thanasi Kokkinakis has come from nowhere. However, like all teen “sensations” there is a steady back catalogue of blood, sweat and tears. Kokkinakis began playing tennis at the age of 8 – in this day of early learning and toddler motor skills programs that seems like a late start. Kokk was hooked by watching clips of Marat Safin, and later Gael Monfils.

Watch Kokkinakis play today and you can see the entertainer emerging in his game too. Big forehand, big serve, big ear-ring. He does look like he was born for the centre court. He’s Greek, he’s flashy – starting to sound familiar. Yep, it sounds like a throw back to that other big serving Greek / Aussie of reality TV fame – the Scud, Mark Philippoussis. While the Scud was ultimately, some would argue a huge talent, but an under achiever, perhaps Kokkinakis is poised to deliver on his promise.

For a start he has the advantage of a rock solid foundation – his family. Dad Trevor came to Australia as a 5year old – and grew up in the tough working class inner west Adelaide suburbs. His is a story of hard work, struggles and ultimate success; owning and operating his own engineering firm. Kokk’s siblings (he is the youngest) all have university degrees, and father Trevor insists Thanasi will finish school, hopefully this year. Grounded – that’s Trevor.

He is coached by Todd Langman. Langman himself is a rookie at this level – he gave up a promising baseball career to work more with Kokkinakis, and that decision is paying off. I was lucky enough to see the two of them in action at this year’s Australian Open in my media role, and you wouldn’t see a more cohesive coach / player partnership. Langman and Kokkinakis have been together 10 years, since Thanasi first struck a tennis ball. In Langman’s words – “it is a dream to coach someone with Thanasi’s ability”. There is no ego with Langman, he is like a sponge, learning on the job, questioning, seeking advice – he is well on his way and will be  a first rate tour coach. He even had the cheek to line up a 10 day training block in Mallorca with someone’s Uncle Toni. Grounded – that’s Todd Langman.

Believe it or not Kokkinakis was playing his first overseas events in 2010 – in the European 14 and under tour. He broke through with a few wins, got the bug and has not looked back since. A runner-up in the 2013 Australian Open junior final, albeit played with a stress fracture in his back, sealed his pedigree. This year he has beaten 4 top 100 players and already cut his ATP ranking  from over 1600+ just 13 months ago to inside 400. It’s no surprise to those who have seen his work ethic – after a 1st round loss last week at the ATP 500 in Marseille, Kokkinakis tweeted “gotta get better, # at the practice court!”  Hard working Trevor would be proud. Like father, like son.

The PRO

Paul Arber. RIP

12 Dec

   Aussie tennis coach Paul Arber’s body was pulled from the Waikato river in Hamilton, New Zealand this morning.

There’s a lot of heavy hearts in the tennis community today. Paul Arber (Arbs) is / was /and always will be a ROCK. Solid, dependable, unmovable, reliable. As a junior he would stubbornly stick to his guns, no matter what Richo or I would try to get him to change.

He had the capacity to always do it “his way” – but to always get the job done. Arbs was determined to succeed, driven, he was a great scrapper on court. Knew how to construct points, knew the value of smart choices. Knew the value of looking after himself.

Paul was a valued member of my coaching team at Australian Open Tennis and such an asset to the Academy and State programs.
I used to enjoy looking over at Paul’s court and without fail he was playing “ammunition” or some other form of points with the kids – despite the briefing at the coaches meeting to stick to the theme… consequently the kids loved him. We all did.

They’ll be playing “ammo” upstairs now.

Rest In Peace Arbs.

JP

Tommy Guns. Federer shot down.

3 Sep

 

Tommy Robredo celebrates his 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory against Roger Federer on Day 8 at the 2013 US Open.

How sweet it is: Tommy Robredo, winners are grinners.

John McEnroe always had a way with words. Many times in his playing career they were hurled in a verbal spray at all and sundry. To hear him lament “I don’t believe what I am seeing” during the ESPN coverage was McEnroe’s calm TV network voice – but he might as well have been screaming “you cannot be serious” as Robredo systematically pulled Swiss maestro Roger Federer’s game apart.

In what can only be described as the upset of the US Open to date (with apologies to Little Lleyton Hewitt for his gutsy win over #6 Juan Martin Del Potro) Tommy Robredo has sent Roger Federer packing, with a straight set 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 demolition of the Swiss 5 time US Open singles champion. It was Robredo’s first win over the Fed Express in 11 attempts, and on the flipside, it is the first time since 2002 that we won’t see the name Roger Federer in any of the men’s slam singles final in a calendar year.

Tommy Robredo’s is a story of courage, persistence and resilience. He had to forgo much of  the 2011 and 2012  tour with a leg injury that ultimately required surgery and saw his ATP ranking drop below 470 early in 2012. I was lucky enough to sit down at the lowly ATP Challenger in Milano with Tommy Robredo following his tournament victory there, and he spoke of his ambition to once again reach the top echelon of the game. You could be excused for thinking he had been too long in the 37 degree Italian sun.

Tommy Robredo returns in the third set during his 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Roger Federer on Day 8 at the 2013 US Open.

Robredo has quietly and efficiently gone about the business of being a true tennis professional from that tournament forward. He has steadily climbed the rankings and already has won two ATP main tier events this year in Santiago and Umag. Perhaps the most telling truth in his determination and burning desire to succeed were on show at this year’s French Open, where Tommy Robredo, in his run to the quarter finals, won three five set matches in a row from two sets to love down. That takes courage, commitment and enormous self-belief. Tommy Robredo – you cannot be serious – John McEnroe – you better believe it.

The PRO.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomic stretched. Barty all business.

27 Aug

  

Aussie young guns Ash Barty and Bernard Tomic advanced in contrasting styles in the 1st round at the US Open today.

Australia, despite being in the tennis wilderness for the best part of ten years (with apologies to Lleyton Hewitt – whose great big heart has broken his little body, and the phlegmatic, roller coaster that is Sam Stosur) was able to brag of two winners on day one of the 2013 US Open.

Teen prodigy Ash Barty broke through in her debut US Open singles match with a resounding 6-1, 6-4 victory over Spain’s  Estrella Cabenza Candela. Barty looked comfortable out on Court 15 and a sign of her maturity was her ability to return serve well and convert four of nine break point opportunities. In a really good gauge to how far Ashleigh Barty has come, her next match pits her against 2011 quarter finalist Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Coach Jason Stoltenberg will have done his homework and Barty may well surprise a few more players along the way.

Despite not having father and coach, John Tomic in the stands, Bernard Tomic was able to overcome his Spanish opponent, lefty Albert Ramos in a gruelling 5 set match 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3. Twenty year old Australian Tomic was able to grind out the win with his trademark angles, court craft and cunning, in what was described as the best match of opening day.

In the battle of the “bad boys”, look for Tomic to advance past Brit surprise packet Daniel Evans. Evans trounced Japan’s world #11 Kei Nishikori in straight sets. Tomic was prophetic, and somewhat ironic in his post match interview, and referred to “today being all about finding a way to get out of tough situations”. Scary one line summary of his fledgling career.

The PRO.

Marinko Matosevic, classic late bloomer.

13 Aug

5 about

Marinko Matosevic on the rise – thanks to new coach Mark Woodforde.

You would hardly call it a quick ascent up the tennis rankings for Australian 28 year old Marinko Matosevic. Marinko has been chipping away at a tennis career since the age of 10, and was stalled in the rankings between 250 to 1000+ for his first 7 years as a pro. In fact, even as a 26 year old in 2011 Matosevic was still outside the top 200. How do you keep going when you are so far from your dream?

Resilience. Perseverance. The reality that this may be your last chance. Maturity. Stubborness. All have played a part in Marinko’s climb. 2012, his 9th year on tour. Matosevic clawed his way above the pack rising from the minor ATP Challenger event in laid back Caloundra to a qualifying breakthrough into the main tour event in Delray Beach. Matosevic carried that qualifying form all the way through to his first final, and by year end had not only broken through the top 100 barrier to #49, but had picked up the prestigious “ATP Most Improved player for 2012″ award. And one other baton was passed on – Marinko Matosevic ended the year as Australia’s top ranked male singles player. This baton, however, was more an indictment on the state of Australian tennis, than an endorsement of Matosevic’s rise.

After a horror start to 2013, which saw him almost tumble out of the top 100, Marinko Matosevic has sought the advice of former Aussie great Mark Woodforde. In the one month together he has reached 2 quarter finals, and had wins over Tommy Haas, Benjamin Becker, Benoit Paire and Milos Raonic. Every one of those players would have had Marinko for breakfast for the first 8 years of his career. Perhaps he has learnt new skills. Listening, belief, and more than likely, fear. Fear at how close the finish line is to a late blooming career, and fear in the inability to see yourself doing anything else once that fleeting career is over. For Marinko – the time is now.

The PRO.

Vika conquered. Stosur wins WTA Carlsbad

5 Aug

Azarenka Carlsbad

Victoria Azarenka. The face of determination.

Aussie Sam Stosur had reason to smile following her upset 6/2 6/3 victory over top seed Victoria Azarenka in the Southern California Open. It was Stosur’s first singles title since her “breakthrough” 2011 US Open victory. That match caused the tennis world to sit up and take notice of the little Aussie with the big guns, mule kicking serve and hostile forehand. Many predicted Stosur would win several Slam titles following her demolition of Serena Williams in that 2011 US Open final.

It has been 2 years of frustration, floating around the edges of the top 10, and blowing many chances, most notably at the French Open, but also at this year’s Wimbledon where Stosur was unable to capitalise on a draw that just kept opening up for her. Stosur’s inconsistency has always been apparent, and just last week she lost 1st round at Stanford. That result made her change plans and push for a wildcard into this week’s Carlsbad event. Perhaps the unplanned is something that works for her. For many years there has been much soul searching as Stosur, a self described “choker” battled mental demons and self doubt.

The pleasing aspect of this win over Azarenka is that despite Stosur taking a daunting 8 losses to 0 wins head to head into the match, she was able to get the job done by playing the big points well, so well, in fact, that the WTA web-site described her as having “nerves of steel”. Nothing could make Stosur, and coach David Taylor happier. While many reconcile the fact that the win over Serena was an aberration, those at Tennis Australia have never stopped believing (they have little choice as Stosur is the only light at one end of a very long tunnel). So it was not entirely unexpected that my phone beeped this morning and the Tennis Australia good news spin doctors were quick off the mark with a congrats Sam text. Now for New York.

The PRO

Roger making a racket

24 Jul

Roger Federer Backhand

Roger Federer and the old racket at Wimbledon.

One man who does not seem to embrace change – why would you when you are perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time – is Roger Federer. Federer has been in constant denial on his slide from the top, and truth be known would still harbour thoughts that he is only a sniff away from getting back to winning Slam titles. That is what all champions hold on to, belief.

Sometimes it takes an unexpected early loss to bring about change. Could it be that Federer’s early Wimbledon exit ushers in the move to a more forgiving larger headed racket that many experts have been calling Roger to trial for a few years now? Roger admits he has never had the inkling nor desire to change anything, let alone his most valuable work tool – his racket. “I was always too deep into the last weekend of tournaments to even try to make a change of racket if I wanted to”, Federer stated a few days ago when asked about the new racket.

So, in a move that indicates a sense of mortality, Federer unveiled a prototype new racket at Hamburg this week. Could this be the sign of a mid-life, mid-size racket crisis? Federer has used a 90 square inch Wilson (very un-forgiving unless you are a Swiss precision ball-striker) his entire career. He is currently trialling a 98 square inch racket that is designed to give him “a little help”. Racket technicians believe the move may even extend Roger’s tennis career, and perhaps this is a sign that he is now willing to adapt and adjust to the challenge of being the hunter and not the hunted.

In Federer’s words when asked about the new racket, “so far, so good”. For Roger that brief phrase could sum up his career.

The PRO

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