MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Thanasi Kokkinakis completed an emotional victory over Kwon Soon-woo of South Korea in the Australian Open first round on Tuesday, his first win at his home Grand Slam since 2015.
Kokkinakis, who beat Roger Federer in Miami in 2018, missed last year’s Australian Open due to glandular fever which caused him to lose 10 kilograms in weight.
Elbow and knee injuries have interrupted the 24-year-old’s career and he was forced to battle his way back through the secondary tours.
“Massive relief. Just happy to get in front of the crowd again and play on that court,” the Australian wildcard told reporters after his 6-4 6-1 6-1 win. “It was a great experience.
“Had a lot of friends and family there watching. Just playing with that energy and that crowd and being able to win, so much work behind the scenes, so much pain.”
Once considered a top prospect, Kokkinakis reached a career-high ranking of 69 in 2015 but has slipped down to 267th after skipping the entire 2020 season.
Kokkinakis received a congratulatory message from 20-times Grand Slam winner Federer, who is missing this year’s tournament at Melbourne Park due to fitness issues.
“Obviously, I didn’t want to think about the finish line but I thought about it from the first set,” said Kokkinakis, whose parents are Greek immigrants. “So at 5-Love I felt this massive roar and massive cheer from the crowd.
“I started tearing up, it was a bit of a soft moment. It was just so much stuff behind the scenes to get back to that point. Yeah, definitely got a bit emotional.”
A second-round clash against Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas awaits.
“I’m not sure what court we’ll play on, I’m sure it will be a pretty big one,” said the South Australian, who has been sporting “A$6 Kmart special” black T-shirts on court due to lack of sponsor.
“I’m hoping there is a decent crowd and can get rowdy, have some Greek fans, Aussie fans, and hopefully it’s pretty loose.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Ed Osmond)