Tennis

Kokkinakis breaks qualifying hex

SOUTH Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis has broken his qualifying hex and will now have to defend a mountain of points in Los Cabos as the lead-up to the US Open intensifies.

Kokkinakis, who is now No. 172 on the ATP world tennis rankings, rocketed up more than 200 spots when he made his maiden final at the event last year as he beat top seed and world No. 14 Tomas Berdych to make the final.

It is almost certain to guarantee Kokkinakis, 22, a wildcard to the main draw this year.

But the confidence he will bring — alongside memories of last year — as from finally cracking through the last-round qualifying hurdle in Atlanta, Georgia this week.

‘K THEN: KOKKINAKIS’ KELLOG’S STIR ENDS IN SECRET DEAL

It was the first time in four attempts that he made it to the main draw and even though he lost to in-form American Noah Rubin in the first round it was a significant stop for Kokkinakis, who had failed to make it through the qualifying at the French Open, Queens and Wimbledon.

“I felt like I should have qualified for Wimbledon and Queens so I didn’t want it to happen again,” Kokkinakis said. “I got a bit tense towards the end.

“My feet stopped moving.

“It is because I haven’t played many matches; I think the more matches I play the more comfortable I’ll get and these matches become easier to close out.”

Kokkinakis is not in an ideal spot, travelling around at more than 100 spots down from his career high of No. 69, which he reached in 2015.

Since then he has struggled with injuries to his shoulder, groin, pectorals ankle and abs.

The slip in ranking means that he has to qualify for most events if he cannot get a wildcard, or opt for the lower challenger circuit.

He will play two challengers in California after the Los Cabos event in Mexico.

“It is tough now,” Kokkinakis said. “My ranking is not where I want it to be.

“I don’t feel like I should be in this position.

“Some things have happened and I’ve just got to get back and keep working my way through qualies, if need be, and go from there.”

But Kokkinakis will still draw confidence from wins such as the March upset of then world No. 1 Roger Federer.

He also collected scalps such as top liners such as Milos Raonic and Berdych in 2017, another year marred by injury.

“You’ve got to take the good matches … take those things and use them,” Kokkinakis said. “Just know that, ‘OK if my body’s right, if I’m healthy, this is what I can do’.

“So I think people around the tour know what I’m capable of, but I’ve just got to be a bit more professional, a bit more disciplined, and start playing more tournaments

“It’s pretty simple. I just got to play more matches.

“I’m just hoping the whole body stays in one piece.”

Kokkinakis is hopeful of gaining a wildcard to the US Open, which begins late next month, and then return to Australia to start plotting for the Australian summer.

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