Why Kokkinakis slapped himself into action

Thanasi Kokkinakis rallies from a set down for second-straight match to reach Adelaide International semi-finals

Thanasi Kokkinakis went to the bathroom after losing the opening set on Thursday night and proceeded to slap himself in the face.

Facing fellow Australian Aleks Vukic in the Adelaide International quarter-finals, Kokkinakis was angry about failing to convert any of his nine break points.

Just like his upset defeat of John Isner in the previous round, those wasted opportunities came back to bite him as he lost a first-set tie-breaker.

But the dam wall burst once Kokkinakis finally clinched a break, on his 12th opportunity, in the eighth game of the second set.

The 25-year-old South Australian’s celebratory roar was equal parts delight and letting out pent-up frustration.

Vukic, to his credit, produced some inspired play when he repeatedly fell behind on serve – but the pressure eventually told, as Kokkinakis pounced early and often in racing through the final set.

The 6-7(5-7) 6-3 6-2 victory booked him a Friday night semi-final date with Croatia’s 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic, after he made the same stage in Adelaide last week.

“It’s massive. I’m super stoked with the start of the year obviously … my goal was to try and stay healthy and give myself a chance after having a deep run last week,”

“I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull up – I was in two minds. I was like, ‘Do I play this week, or do I go to Melbourne and freshen up and kind of get ready for AO?’.

“But my thing was I didn’t want to take these tour events for granted. I know how few and far between they were last year.

“Mentally, I was cooked after last week, but I thought if I can get physically to a point where I’m OK to start next week, hopefully with that home crowd and everything I’ll find it.

“I’m not regretting my decision at all. I might in a couple of days but right now I’m enjoying it.”

Vukic twice resurrected himself from 0-40 holes in the opening set – in the third and 11th games – with big first serves and aggressive play off the ground, mostly on his forehand.

Meanwhile, Kokkinakis breezed through almost all of his service games, except for one early break point that he saved with one of his 17 aces.

The most trouble he experienced on serve came from a persistent crow stationed in The Drive rafters that was determined to interrupt him.

But Kokkinakis inconceivably dropped his first two points on serve in the tie-breaker, then asked the chair umpire for eye drops as he struggled to pick up the ball.

Even after Kokkinakis worked his way back to five-all, he again complained to his courtside team about his eyesight.

Worse was to come when Vukic backed up an excellent return with an aggressive forehand that earned him a set point that he converted when Kokkinakis’ backhand pass narrowly landed long.

The danger for Kokkinakis was for those wasted opportunities to weigh him down emotionally, but he continued to land his thunderous first serve at an outstanding rate.

Vukic never found an answer to that weapon, even stepping way behind the baseline at certain stages in a desperate attempt for more success.

It was still a breakthrough week for Vukic, who was playing his first ATP Tour quarter-final and will make his top-150 debut next week.

As for Kokkinakis, he will continue his title for a maiden ATP Tour title against Cilic, who earlier accounted for American Tommy Paul in three sets.

“I’m coming in with a lot more matches and probably a few more hours on the court, so he’s going to be fresher but he’s just good,” Kokkinakis said of Cilic.

“He does everything well – good serve, his backhand when he was at his best was money, his forehand is pretty good. He just does everything well and he‘s super professional and super intense.

“I’m not going to beat him by sitting back and waiting. I’ve got to serve how I’ve been serving – I’ve been serving great – and hopefully have a bit better break point conversion, if I get one.”

Originally published as Adelaide International 2022: Thanasi Kokkinakis beats fellow Australian Aleks Vukic to make second-straight semi-final

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