Tag Archives: Gael Monfils

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 French quarter

22 Jan

Many coaches – and I am one, will tell you producing tennis players is a numbers game. You need facilities that are adequate, funding where possible, sports science services that can compete with other tennis nations, highly qualified and motivated tennis coaches, supportive and patient parents, and definitely a little luck. But most of all you need a DEEP talent pool, many players pushing each other along, each striving to be better – that is the key to a successful “program”.

Well what has been going on in France. No fewer than 14 players in the main draw of this year’s Australian Open men’s singles! That in itself is a “benchmark” to be proud of, even if they all lost in the opening round. But with talent of the quality of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon, Gael Monfils, Nicolas Mahut, Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau just to name half of them, there certainly will be many still in the draw deep into the tournament. I would be looking ahead to a Tsonga – Andy Murray 1/4 final, and would not be at all surprised if Richard Gasquet – who has been flying under the radar  does not also push through to a quarter final berth.

Viva la France.

The PRO.

Australian Open Tennis Days 1 and 2 from the Aussie mens corner.

22 Jan


Day 1 and the first Aussie to hit the courts was Greg Jones – the big-serving tall right hander from New South Wales. In the draw courtesy of a wildcard Jones was drawn against fast rising Ukranian star, world number 13 Alex Dolgopolov. Jones got off to a flying start with the Show Court  crowd behind him taking the first 2 sets. Jones needed to get the trainer to treat his blisters – one of the curses of hardcourt tennis – and of 5 set matches at the change of ends following the second set. He lost the next 3 sets to go down 1/6 4/6 6/1 6/1 6/2. Close – but no cigar and Jones may well rue this missed opportunity.

The only other Aussie in action (apart from Bernard Tomic -whose memorable 5 set epic over Fernando Verdasco is treated in more detail on another page) was young Ben Mitchell. Fresh out of juniors Mitchell found himself drawn against the 16th seed John Isner from the USA. All 6 feet and 10 inches of him. And with a monster serve to match, Isner is one of the new breed of super tall athletes on the ATP tour. Mitchell would have salvaged quite a lot from his straight sets defeat, and was far from disgraced. He went down 6/4 6/4 7/6.

HEWITT – the battle begins.

No surprises in who put in a tenacious and gritty performance – yep Lleyton Hewitt got through in a roller coaster 4 set performance against unheralded – but certainly won’t be for long – young German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe. The German lefty looks like a schoolboy – but his size and appearance belied the aggressive shot-making and power from his racket. Stebe is one to watch over the next few years as he adjusts to the demands of the senior ATP tour. Hewitt was resolute and exuberant in victory. His celebration on his back in the middle of Rod Laver Arena gave little away in how much this meant to him following a frustrating year of surgery and pain.

Truth be known little Lleyton was not giving himself much chance of being able to play. BUT – once he takes to the court then his fighting qualities surface and off he goes again through the wall of pain. Lleyton found himself in a battle – up 2 sets, but with a momentum swing going against him faster than the king tide of the Bay of Fundy. Stebe took the 3rd  and raced to a 5/1 lead in the 4th set. It was still 35 degrees, and the only thing that had cooled off was Lleyton. But like he has done so many times throughout his 15 year careeer on the tour, Hewitt dug deep and found the inner self-belief and will that has been his trade mark. He reeled off the next 6 games straight, killing off the momemtum and the challenge from Stebe. Hewitt in 4 sets – 7/5 6/4 3/6 7/5. Perhaps Paul Kelly should pen a song for Lleyton as he has done for Don Bradman and Shane Warne – would go something along the line …” his big heart has broken his little body…”

In what was a good day for the Australian men, young Aussie James Duckworth showed he is ready to take the next step and advanced with a polished performance against Estonian qualifier Jurgen Zopp in straight sets to set up a meeting with Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic. Matthew Ebden also had a good victory taking out Brazillian Joao Souza. Ebden looks in great shape and you really can see the result of all the hard work he has been doing in off court preparation. Not so lucky but still giving some early hope was Marinko Matosevic. He went down to french excitement machine Gael Monfils. The first set there was some great rallies of power hitting from both players, and Matosevic did not look out of place at this level. He needs to work on both the physical and mental side of his game as he fell away a little too easily in the end. Still the promise is there, Monfils in straight 7/6 6/3 6/3.

to view all player rankings check out this link.


The PRO.