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Plucky Kokkinakis back on track after Raonic win

Tennis

It’s probably easier to ask Thanasi Kokkinakis what part of his body wasn’t hurting him over the last 18 months.

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Major shoulder surgery, a torn oblique muscle, osteitis pubis, a torn pec, a bad elbow, a serious groin issue and a back problem – the 21-year-old’s medical history reads like a copy of Gray’s Anatomy.

But at Queen’s Club overnight, the likeable South Australian put all of that misery firmly behind him as he sent world No.6 Milos Raonic packing 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (8-6) in the opening round, just months after almost hanging up his racquet.

Widely regarded as possessing one of the most formidable serves in the game, Raonic was the beaten finalist at this tournament last year to Andy Murray, who then prevailed again in the Wimbledon decider two weeks later.

That huge serve was evident throughout the two hours they were on court as the Canadian rained down 18 aces on Kokkinakis, who struggled to win more than two points a game when receiving.

But despite some early struggles with his own service game in the first set where he saved eight break points, Kokkinakis held his nerve when it mattered in the tiebreak to take the early initiative.

It was a similar story in the second but it was Raonic who started to show signs of cracking, blowing three set points, before the Australian sealed victory with his second match point, to cap off the best result of his career – in only his fifth encounter of 2017.

“I have been practising pretty good, and then come out on the court and I’m nervous as anything,” said Kokkinakis , who was granted a wildcard to play last week by Queen’s Club’s Australian tournament director Stephen Farrow.

“My first few forehands, hit the back fence, I’m, like, ‘Jeez, this is bad again’. Luckily my serve helped me, and then I won the big points when it mattered, so it’s huge.”

Having seen his ranking slump to 993, after reaching 65 in 2015, the 21-year-old, who is playing on an ATP protected ranking status, admitted he was set to throw the towel in on his career after his body continued to let him down and the tournament wins didn’t materialise.

“I’m usually not a hot head, but in practice I was breaking racquets every day and that’s not me,” Kokkinakis said.

“I was just hating it. Winning and playing well in practice was good, but then I wasn’t translating.

“I just didn’t feel that confident. I felt like some of those issues I was having for a long time were still there, and I just wasn’t feeling great with my game.

“Obviously a win like today helps. Again, I have shown my level in practice, but you want to win.

“Practice sucks. Winning a match, that actually means something. It’s a good feeling.”

Kokkinakis will now play Daniil Medvedev, who beat him last week in the Netherlands, for a place in the quarter-finals.
-AAP

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