A first-round loss last week, in his first tour match since September 2019, marked a baby steps return for Thanasi Kokkinakis.
The 24-year-old has been to hell and back with a litany of injuries, but a wildcard entry to the Australian Open could be the start of his journey back to better times.
In 2018, Kokkinakis defeated Roger Federer, a signal of what the Adelaide native could, when his body and mind allow him, produce.
Korean world number 92 Soonwoo Kwon is Kokkinakis’s first round obstacle, and despite a rankings disparity – the Aussie is 266 – the bookies at least rate Kokkinakis on top.
Kokkinakis had to skip the entire 2020 season, which continued despite COVID-19 interruptions, due to glandular fever that stripped kilos from his frame and forced him into even more rehab.
He was beaten in three sets by compatriot Alex Bolt at last week’s Murray River Open, his first tour match in 18 months, but said the quarantine interruptions for so many players levelled the playing field and gave him an Open hope.
“For once I kind of feel like everyone’s in the same boat as far as missing time goes. It’s been a rough year for everyone but what I took, is kind of confidence – if you will – in knowing that everyone’s kind of in the same boat as me,” he said recently.
“I’ve been in this situation where I’ve had to have a lay-off many, many times, so I’m kind of used to it to an extent. I feel that I know how to deal with it and I’m just looking forward to getting started.”
Li Tu looms as the wildest of Aussie wildcards on day two. The last entry into the main draw, the 24-year-old from South Australia, a one-time teenage tennis prodigy, doesn’t even hold an official ATP ranking.
He will collect $100,000 even if he loses, and his challenge seems greater than Kokkinakis as he takes on Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez.
Other Aussies in action include Jordan Thompson playing 24th seed Casper Rudd, from Norway, while Alexei Popyrin, another wildcard entry, takes on Belgium’s David Goffin, the 13th seed.
Sydney’s Chris O’Connell meets Belgian Jan-Lennard Struff and Aleksandar Vukic plays Russian 19th seed Karen Khachanov to round out the Aussie action.