A smile sat on his face that said anything but happy.
Just two days prior, Thanasi Kokkinakis had lifted his first ever ATP tour title, taking it in his hometown of Adelaide in front of a crowd that had plugged themselves in and powered themselves up to energy levels delirious in what would turn out to be a successful effort to slingshot one of their own over the line.
Now, not more than 78 hours on, Kokkinakis stared down an impending first round Australian Open exit as it crept towards him in the afternoon heat, his opponent excelling as he fell away, unable to get it all moving after two weeks of emptying-the-tank efforts.
Back-to-back warm-up events had paved his way to this opening major of the year, a semi-final showing at the first improved upon by a trophy-lifting snapshot for the photo albums at the second leaving him feeling at the very least hopeful heading into Melbourne Park.
However, that triumph the week prior now played catch-up, licking at his consistency which in turn left his game error-strewn and struggling to provide, the Australian’s play altogether bedraggled and gone. As he looked to his box between the final few points, it was with an expression of desperate exasperation at how quickly tennis moves on.
Moments later, Yannick Hanfmann claimed the match atop a thick bedrock of three trouble-free sets.
The never-pause nature of the tennis tours often impacts heavily in situations such as this, taking a title player one week and rotating them and their trophy through the opening rounds meat-grinder the next, reality-checking them with a reminder that reads “that’s great, but what’s next?!” as it dusts up their chances. The system of rolling ever onwards is built in to the very structure the ATP and WTA circuits and it’s because of that that the focus only seems forever focused on the here-and-now-and-immediately-after.
Tiredness is rarely forgiven and good tournament runs rarely rewarded beyond the weeks that they’re achieved within, carried away as they are with exhausted wheeziness on the winds of the opening day of the next event beginning.
Make no mistake, in time, Kokkinakis will want to build up from this point and skyscraper his way past first round matches into consistent contention. But given the temperamental terrain of a career that has frequently seen him snatched clear of success and thrown bloodied and bed-ridden into a colourful array of medical crazy, this is but a light scratch of a stop-gap.
With time to digest, the disappointment of defeat should drain for Kokkinakis, the bigger picture of his year up until now no-less impressive in the wake of this loss. Indeed, perhaps he can now give himself a moment to look at his trophy from last week and examine all that it reflects back, all of his desire that overcame the detrimental.
Tennis might stop for no-one but that’s exactly why sometimes, the players must.