Thanasi Kokkinakis is on the verge of a top-100 return after clinching his maiden ATP singles title at the Adelaide International

Thanasi Kokkinakis better figure out some new goals for this year.

The resurgent South Australian completed a boyhood dream-of-sorts when he won the Adelaide International Two title on Saturday night to cap an extraordinary start to his season.

Kokkinakis out-duelled fast-rising Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech 6-7(6-8) 7-6(7-5) 6-3 in a battle of serving savants in front of a heaving crowd at The Drive.

The raw emotion of years of setbacks spilled over after Rinderknech’s last backhand ballooned beyond the baseline to seal Kokkinakis’ maiden ATP singles title.

He dropped to the court to kiss the Adelaide insignia on the court he grew up playing on and watching the stars he would eventually join.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt emotions like that. You grow up playing and you never know if it’s going to happen,” Kokkinakis said.

“To do it in Adelaide, on a court I grew up playing on when I was seven, eight, nine years old and in front of friends and family – they’ve had a tough year, they’ve ridden the ups and downs with me – I’m so happy.”

It was Kokkinakis’ fourth-straight three-setter and the third time this week he rallied from a set down, on his fifth-consecutive day of playing.

That’s an achievement in itself for a player who was ravaged by injuries for the best part of five years before last season and even written off in some quarters as an elite prospect.

To put Kokkinakis’ fortnight into perspective, he won only five ATP Tour-level matches in the past three years but scored eight of them in making a semi-final then winning his maiden singles title.

He will surge to No.103 in the rankings on Monday and within sight of a long-awaited return to the top 100 – his top priority, aside from staying healthy, for 2022.

Kokkinakis was last in that elite company almost six years ago.

In a quirk, the 25-year-old will also leapfrog close friend Nick Kyrgios in the rankings for the first time in nine years, back when they were still starry-eyed teenagers.

“When I’m having good wins and playing in front of a packed house, it reminds you why you keep doing it and why you get up in the morning and do those training sessions,” Kokkinakis said.

“Or why you spend countless hours rehabbing what look like injuries that you might never come back from.

“It just makes it all worth it, as I said, in front of mum and dad and seeing the tears in their eyes when I went to hug them after the match.

“They’re the moments you live for. Not a lot of people get the opportunity to win a title and for me to do it at home, kind of in my comeback (makes it extra special).

“I hope this is just the beginning for me but if this is as good as it gets, I’m content as well, to be honest.”

Kokkinakis had to dig deep, with Rinderknech – who will make his top-50 debut next week and play his first Australian Open – unerringly brilliant on serve for most of the first two sets.

In fact, each player had to escape a deuce game only once until that stage of the match and they finished with a combined 33aces.

But Kokkinakis was forced into catch-up mode when he dumped a tense forehand into the net to drop the opening set, after neither player conceded on serve in the first 13 points of the tie-break.

After serving his way out of a deuce danger game early in the second set, Kokkinakis remained frustrated as he continued to make minimal inroads on Rinderknech’s serve.

The first signs of a wobble from the Frenchman came in the 12th game of the second set, as he missed a series of first serves for the first time all match.

Kokkinakis dropped the first two points of the tie-break but snatched the next five on his way to levelling the match.

Rinderknech never recovered, spraying a forehand long to offer up the first break point in the opening game of the third set, which Kokkinakis gleefully accepted.

The Australian proved an irresistible frontrunner and avoided having to serve the match out, with Rinderknech gifting him a second break with a loose final game.

Kokkinakis noticed sponsors drop off, fewer messages on his phone and even people who used to stop him for a chat keep walking when he became the forgotten man of tennis.

But he long ago shrugged that off, realising the never-failing support of his family and coaches, Todd Langman and Todd Ley, was far more important.

“Everyone wants to pat you on the back and message you (when things are going well) and then when you’re on the other side, a lot of people don’t really care,” Kokkinakis said.

“It took me by surprise the first couple of years but the last three years, I kind of stopped caring about what other people thought, because I knew it was part of it.

“Everyone loves a winner, I get that, but … when you’re an injured player and you’re not spending too much time playing, if you’re a big company, why would you want to sponsor someone?

“So, it makes sense to me but now I’m just happy. I’m on the front foot and my body feels great. As I said, I hope this is just the beginning for me and onwards and upwards.”

Kokkinakis boarded a flight to Melbourne on Saturday night and will play German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann at the Australian Open on Monday before a potential second-round clash with Rafael Nadal.

Originally published as Adelaide International 2022: Hometown hero Thanasi Kokkinakis defeats Arthur Rinderknech to win maiden ATP Tour singles title

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