Thanasi Kokkinakis goes down fighting in third round French Open defeat | French Open 2023

new balance

Prone on his back at Roland Garros after slipping on match point in a thriller against Karen Khachanov on Friday, Thanasi Kokkinakis could have been excused for cursing. A lot.

Another golden opportunity had just gone begging, this time in Paris, in part due to the excellence of the Russian and a miscalculation by Kokkinakis, but also due to bad luck.

Too often that has been the tale of the tape for the Australian in an interrupted career with some remarkable high points but far too many instances where misfortune has intervened.

Kokkinakis had been a point away from forcing a deciding set in his 6-4 6-2 3-6 7-6 (5) loss to the 11th seeded Khachanov in a gripping encounter that lasted 3hr 42min.

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The Australian started well in his first third round match at a major in eight years, only to lose his concentration midway through the first set when surrendering control.

But he roused himself with some stunning shotmaking in set three and was on track to force a fifth when the fickle finger of fate intervened once again.

A familiar rush of blood on his own set point in the fourth, where he over hit a forehand, is a problem Kokkinakis knows he must rectify if he is to progress to bigger moments.

“I think I definitely deserved that chance to go to a decider. But sport is tough. It’s part of it,” he said.

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“You have just got to keep getting better and try to work out ways to finish and try to deal with the nerves a little better.”

As for bad luck? The last two points of the tiebreaker are indicative of his topsy-turvy career.

On the first match point he saved, Kokkinakis showed remarkable touch to win it despite breaking a string, somehow finding the deftest of touch to control the tennis ball.

With his toes bouncing on the final point, the 27-year-old was moving into a position to attempt a forehand passing shot when his feet slid from underneath, flooring him.

Kokkinakis has been knocked down plenty of times in his career.

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Stress fractures in his back. A savagely torn pectoral muscle, which troubled him again on Friday. Prolonged glandular fever. Mental health demons. And heartbreaking losses.

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Those are just some of the reasons he, to quote Kokkinakis after his five set win over former champion Stan Wawrinka on Wednesday, “went missing for the last sort of five years”.

After a similarly heartbreaking loss in Miami to Hubert Hurkacz in March, which followed the nightmare near dawn against Andy Murray in Melbourne in January, Kokkinakis despaired.

“This (insert expletive) sport, man,” Kokkinakis posted on social media hours afterwards.

This time around he boasted a rueful smile as he shrugged his shoulders, picked himself up, greeted Khachanov and left Simone Mathieu Stadium to a standing ovation from the crowd.

But the brave face was a front for the inner-turmoil the Adelaide native was feeling.

“I was thinking, ‘You’re kidding’. Honestly, I was thinking, ‘I’ve let another one slip’. It’s a sport. The margins are so small,” he said.

Kokkinakis is far more experienced than his run to the third round in Paris when beaten by Novak Djokovic in 2015. Not long after that he achieved his career high ranking of 69.

The years of mishaps have taken Kokkinakis to dark places.

But on exiting a grand slam that has been played under glorious blue skies, there is clearly hope of a brighter path ahead for Kokkinakis.

He will apply for a wildcard for Wimbledon, having narrowly missed direct entry.

The Australian, whose live ranking sits in the 80s, is in the top 40 ranking points earners for the year and has claims for the wildcard based on his recent results.

Kokkinakis also has very few points to defend in the second half of this season and, providing he remains fit enough to play regularly, should rapidly improve his ranking.

He might have ended this Roland Garros campaign on his back but the evidence suggests that after years of fortune betraying him, Kokkinakis is finally finding his feet.

As Khachanov said after his rival had exited the arena; “To see him playing better and better, I think he deserves it.”

new balance

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