Wednesday, January 15, 2014

South Australian teen tyro Thanasi Kokkinakis ready to face champion Rafael Nadal

Emerging tennis star Thanasi Kokkinakis, centre, with his family, from left, sister Christina, mum Voula, father Trevor, and ...
Emerging tennis star Thanasi Kokkinakis, centre, with his family, from left, sister Christina, mum Voula, father Trevor, and brother Pan. Picture: David Caird. Source: News Limited

TREVOR Kokkinakis took some convincing a decade ago when local tennis coach Todd Langman told him his son, Thanasi, was a natural.

The father of three from Adelaide's southern suburbs was already paying coaching fees for his oldest son Pan, and questioned whether seven-year-old Thanasi needed private tutelage.

"He tagged along with me one day to watch, and as soon as Pan stopped to have a drink, Thanasi tried to get on the court,'' Trevor recalls.

"I warned Todd that we'd never get the racquet back off him, but Thanasi had a hit and straight away Todd said 'I think he's got something'."

"I thought he was just trying to get another set of coaching fees out of me."

Tonight, Trevor Kokkinakis will watch from the player's box at Rod Laver Arena as his son, arguably the hottest prospect in Australian men's tennis, takes on World No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

Sitting not too far away from Trevor, will be Langman.

The former baseballer is still Thanasi's coach, and he's more convinced than ever that Thanasi has "got something".

Trevor is also convinced. In fact he became a convert to Langman's theory not long after he reluctantly began handing over an extra set of private coaching cheques 10 years ago.

"He was always a very determined kid,'' Trevor recalls of the teenager who has taken Australian tennis by storm this summer.

"As soon as he wanted to do something, there was no way you could tell him he wasn't going to be able to do it.

"He had to get his own way, so when he put his mind to tennis we started to see some progress."

The progress happened fast.

What started as one coaching session a week with Langam at the local club near the Kokkinakis family home in Seacombe Gardens quickly became two. Then three.

With Pan also an accomplished player, the Kokkinakis boys became well known in Adelaide's pennant circles before they could shave.

By age 15, Thanasi was so good tennis began taking him all over the world and his parents were forced to withdraw him from private Adelaide school Scotch College.

"His grades were pretty good and the school was very co-operative but once he started touring it became too difficult," Trevor recalls.

"We knew we had to give this tennis thing an absolute shot."

The teenager will likely to continue globetrotting for the next decade or more.

Tennis Australia boss Craig Tilley has predicted Kokkinakis' will be a world top 10 player over the coming years, the youngster's feats already backing up the prediction.

Kokkinakis has beaten four top world 100 ranked players this summer, two in ATP events.

His most recent scalp, World No. 73 ranked Dutchman Igor Sijsling, came in 40C heat on Tuesday and set up today's second round Australian Open duel with Nadal.

Regardless of the result, Trevor Kokkinakis says he, wife Voula, daughter Christina and son Pan will be the proudest people in the stadium.

"It's been amazing what he's achieved so far and we're all very proud of him,'' Trevor said.

"The whole family is very proud."

And, win or lose tonight, Trevor will also make sure Thanasi eventually finishes his schooling.

His parents both labourers, Trevor migrated to Adelaide as part of the city's Greek migration boom aged five in the 1960s and he says his working-class upbringing made him appreciate the importance of education.

A civil engineer, Trevor co-directs TMK Consulting Engineers in Adelaide. Thanasi is now doing his schooling externally through Marden Open Access College.

"The intention is for him to still complete Year 12,'' Trevor says.

"He's got one and a bit subjects to go. Hopefully, he'll complete that this year.

"It's important for him to have an education even if he doesn't use it because it helps him become a well-rounded individual."

For now, Kokkinakis will focus on Nadal.


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