From Winnetka to Wimbledon: Thanasi Kokkinakis, Australia's New Tennis Hope
Thanasi Kokkinakis is 19-year-old and is in the world top 100 and was Saturday mixing it with world number one Novak Djokovic at the French Open. The Australian may have been swept aside by the top seed, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, but the teenager believes he's on the right track.
When Nick Kyrgios was making history with his stunning Wimbledon win over Rafael Nadal last year, Thanasi Kokkinakis was losing a first round match in the wilds of Illinois.
Almost 12 months on, 19-year-old Kokkinakis is in the world top 100 and was Saturday mixing it with world number one Novak Djokovic at the French Open. (Djokovic Eases into French Open Last Sixteen)
The Australian may have been swept aside by the top seed, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, but the teenager believes he's on the right track.
"I don't think I need to change too much what I'm doing. I think I'm on a good path," said Kokkinakis, who was playing in the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time.
He admits that Kyrgios, just a year older at 20, is an inspiration especially after his compatriot stunned Nadal at Wimbledon on his way to the last-eight. (Andy Murray Crushes Nick Kyrgios)
Kyrgios was 19 and ranked 144.
At the same time, Kokkinakis was getting beaten by Farrukh Dustov in the first round of a second-tier Challenger event in Winnetka, a small town just north of Chicago best known for its location in the Home Alone movie franchise.
"I was like, wow, what am I doing?," said Kokkinakis of Kyrgios's win.
"I had a look at it and I worked hard to put myself in these positions to play greatest players on big courts."
Despite Saturday's defeat against the world number one, in a match where he failed to carve out a single break point, he believes he learnt valuable lessons which will stand him in good stead with the grasscourt season and Wimbledon fast approaching.
"He (Djokovic) makes so many balls. He covers the court so well. He doesn't really play very high-risk tennis," explained the teenager.
"For me as well to beat someone like that, you have to play winners or go for your shots and maybe I pressed a little bit too much.
"But as I get stronger and fitter, I won't have to go for as many winners against him."
- Refreshing -
Djokovic believes Kokkinakis, Kyrgios and Croatian 18-year-old Boran Coric, who also made the third round in Paris, are serious contenders for future major titles.
"Tennis needs players like Thanasi, who is a teenager, but is still able to come out on centre court and play with courage and play with power and believe in himself," said Djokovic.
"We didn't have that many young successful players under 20 in the last six, seven years, so I think it's quite refreshing."
Time is certainly on the side of Kokkinakis and Kyrgios.
Nadal may have been 19 when he won his first major at the French Open in 2005 and Djokovic was 20 at the time of his 2008 Australian Open breakthrough.
But it took Roger Federer until he was almost 22 to clinch his first Wimbledon in 2003 and Murray was 25 when he lifted the US Open in 2012.
"For a few years people were saying, oh, now the game is so physical you can't break through until you're 20, 21 year olds," said Murray after his 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win on Saturday over Kyrgios.
"But the reality was it was just a period where juniors weren't as good, and now you see some great young players coming through that are going to be top of the game for a long time.
Kyrgios's hopes of an upset against Murray were undermined by a right elbow injury which caused a major outage in his serving power.
It was another worrying physical setback for a player who suffered back and foot injuries after his run to the Australian Open quarter-finals in January.
However, even Djokovic once went through similar growing pains, retiring injured from the 2005 and 2006 French Opens, 2007 Wimbledon and 2009 US Open.
"Andy is a freak athlete. He's strong. I think that's how he has his advantage when he plays," said Kyrgios.