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.