Big Kokk

The tears hooked him even as he jogged up to shake hands with his opponent at the net.

He took this moment and let it wash over him, feeling it digging in at the dirt of so many years of derailment, out from between the layers of his muscle that had so often constricted and sent him spinning into ever more serious career questions.

A walk back to the baseline followed and a symbolic kiss of the white painted ADELAIDE letters grasped the arena roof once more and shook it fervently with a childish glee, locals revelling a triumph certainty of one of their own in a time of tumultuous political activity.

And then finally, the ceremony. 

At 25 years of age, this was Thanasi Kokkinakis’s first ATP tour title, a landmark long dreamed of finally reaching from faraway hospital beds and rehab rooms back when even the suggestion of this happening would have seemed like the work of a torturing comedian, raising laughs of outrageousness that drowned in aches and pains and choking hopes of the one granted the misfortune of listening.

But as those dreams finally poured up and over the brim of impossible things and into the waking world of reality, they stretched put, uncoiling as they coloured everything they touched inside the Memorial Drive Tennis Centre on the way down to the court surface, sloshing against the local legions and sending them ever further into religious fervour. 

Their man was there, holding the Adelaide International 2 trophy close as though ready to beat anyone away should they try to take it from him, so much had he went through, such seeds of doubt he had to crush beneath hours, days, weeks, months and years of monotonous over-again-and-over-again commitment to pursuing a cause that had seemed so intent on ripping itself forcibly out of reach and into the arms of wanting others.

***

He’d wanted it today though, so bad it had almost escaped him again, running away through a maze of a first set lost on a tiebreak, his opponent Arthur Rinderknech taking it and in doing so, sticking a pin in the balloon of an atmosphere that had steadily been building up within the stadium.

The second went much the same way, the crowd see-sawing between living and dying, Kokkinakis’ success the only thing keeping their heart pumping blood hot around their bodies that were tight with anxiety that either lifted them or lost them depending on how points played out. But with the tiebreak this time, a different result, one that left the Australian screaming for more of the madness of it all as his army prepared themselves for one last push.

And with the flags of his country draping shoulders the stands over, Kokkinakis dug deep for something and came up with more, a break of the Rinderknech serve in the first game of the third enough to hot-wire the set and guide it his way. A second break sealed it, Kokkinakis crouching into emotion beneath a volcanic-like uproar.

***

Until this point, the career of Kokkinakis had been a temperamental plethora of talent and heartbreak hung together as one, a macabre piece that made you smile before making you cry. A win over Roger Federer in 2018 was painted bright against the darkness that backgrounded it, shadows in which lay hidden fractures and strains that inflicted themselves upon him, dragging him from these highlights into stresses that only intensified with each hand he was dealt.

Indeed, so often are things in tennis described as rollercoaster rides, journeys of intensity with peaks and troughs that find climax in ultimate moments of here-and-there euphoria. But the trajectory of Kokkinakis stands out more for its persistence in the face of severe injury stoppages. His has been a chessboard filled with moves of his noteworthy momentum, only for the board itself to disappear into nowhere and send his pieces marbling away as though magnetised to anything other than his touch.

This win, then, is a reminder to bubble-wrap your ecstasy against all of your agony.

Ecstasy: Thanasi Kokkinakis wins his first ATP Tour in his hometown of Adelaide.

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