After enduring endless lows, Thanasi Kokkinakis is savouring the highest of highs after sealing Australia’s passage through to the Davis Cup group stages.
Returning to the Cup fold for the first time since the 2015 World Group semi-finals, Kokkinakis was overjoyed after completing a triumphant summer campaign with a nerve-wracking 6-4 6-4 win over Zsombor Piros on Saturday night.
The victory in the fifth and deciding rubber clinched a 3-2 qualifying victory for Australia and sent Lleyton Hewitt’s team back to Europe in September for the pool stages of the century-old teams’ event.
Kokkinakis’ emotion-charged triumph – which brought tears to his father’s eyes in the stands – also followed his maiden ATP Tour title breakthrough in his home city of Adelaide in January and the 25-year-old’s captivating Australian Open victory with Nick Kyrgios.
“I couldn’t have asked for more from the start of the year,” Kokkinakis told the jubilant crowd at Ken Rosewall Arena.
“Davis Cup is so different. In those singles tournaments in the ATP, you’re playing for yourself.
“Here, it feels like you’ve got the whole country backing, supporting you. It’s a different kind of pressure.
“But it’s something if you want to play on the big stage, you’ve got to get used to.
“So having the support is unreal. To play at home is sick.”
A luckless run of shoulder, pectoral, groin, knee and elbow injuries as well as a serious bout of glandular fever have cruelled the first half of Kokkinakis’s career.
The one-time Roger Federer slayer lost his ranking altogether in 2017 but is now back in the world’s top 100 and is excited about scaling the heights again.
“It’s been a long seven years since I played Davis Cup and this is incredible,” Kokkinakis said.
“Playing in that atmosphere and the cheer you guys brought before that final service game gave me goose bumps.
“Thanks Lleyton for trusting me. It’s been a long time since I played so to play a fifth rubber at home, it’s incredible.”
Captain Hewitt was full of praise for his entire team, including twin singles winner Alex de Minaur, but paid a special tribute to Kokkinakis for his resolve and resilience.
“For Thanasi to come out and play in a live fifth rubber, until you’re put in that position, no one knows what it’s like,” Hewitt said.
“He handled it extremely well and I’m really proud of how he went out there with the composure that he obviously had after losing a tight match last night (against Marton Fucsovics).”