Kokkinakis claims emotional first title
The incredible tennis renaissance of Thanasi Kokkinakis continues apace with the battle-scarred South Australian claiming his first ATP Tour title in front of delirious home fans in Adelaide.
Kokkinakis lit up the Memorial Drive Tennis Centre as he shrugged off a first-set deficit to beat big-serving Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech 6-7 (8-6) 7-6 (7-5) 6-3.
The 25-year-old is well-versed in having to overcome obstacles.
Earmarked as a "Special K" and fulcrum of Australian tennis alongside countryman Nick Kyrgios after featuring in two junior grand slam finals, Kokkinakis instead endured a horror injury run that left him contemplating retirement.
Shoulder, pectoral, groin, knee and elbow injuries and a serious bout of glandular fever had stripped him of long periods of tennis over five years.
Only a fortnight ago he was ranked 171 in the world.
But a golden run through Adelaide -- that included a semi-final in the first tournament last week -- will leave him knocking on the door of the top 100.
And with the belief of a bright future ahead.
The likely No.103 marker will be his highest ranking in almost six years and opens to door to direct entry for grand slams.
In a sign of just how far he has come, Kokkinakis's eight matches won over the past fortnight bettered his return across all ATP matches in the past three years.
A teary-eyed Kokkinakis later said it was probably the most emotional he'd felt in his life when Rinderknech's final ball sailed long.
"Not just (happy) for myself and the work I put in but everyone that stuck by me," he said.
"They see me at my lowest points. To ride this high, it's just validation, just happiness for everyone involved. It's as much their title as it is mine."
It didn't come easily on Saturday night as Rinderknech bombed down aces seemingly at will.
The Frenchman was imperious on serve in the first set, not facing a break point.
Kokkinakis largely also delivered on serve and pushed Rinderknech to a tiebreak.
Unfortunately, the Australian blinked first, netting a straightforward forehand after a second serve when 6-7 down in the breaker.
Driven by a raucous crowd, he returned the favour in the next tiebreak to take the match to a decider.
From there it was all Kokkinakis, crunching forehand winner upon winner and breaking Rinderknech twice to seal the match.
Kokkinakis said he'd already reflected on his journey and was at peace with dropping off the tennis radar and everything that entails.
"When you're doing well, everyone wants to pat you on the back, message you. When you're on the other side, a lot of people don't really care," he said.
"But it took me by surprise the first couple of years. The last three years I kind of stopped caring about what other people thought..."
Kokkinakis will head to the Australian Open full of confidence and will play qualifier Yannick Hanfmann in the first round before a likely second-round encounter with Rafael Nadal.
Rinderknech, who will jump to a career-high 48th in the rankings, is set for a serving slugfest in his first-round clash at Melbourne Park, having drawn Australian Alexei Popyrin.