Kokkinakis gearing up to meet his part-time mentor Murray | Australian Open 2023

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Years ago, before Thanasi Kokkinakis first met Andy Murray, he formed a preconceived idea about the Scottish player’s temperament. “I remember watching him when I was younger thinking: ‘This dude looks moody as hell, he looks miserable,’” Kokkinakis says. “Then, when you got to know him, he is actually a ripper bloke and a good guy. I’ll put all that aside and give it a crack tomorrow.”

Thursday’s second-round encounter at Melbourne Park will be a meeting of colleagues who very well could be friends. They know each other not through on-court battles – they have played each other just once, a straight-sets win for Murray at the 2015 Davis Cup – but through the guidance the younger has received from the elder. Most recently, that came in the form of some coaching in the lead-up to the US Open.

“Andy is someone I respect a great amount,” Kokkinakis says. “Obviously he has been at the top of the game, and he can relate a little bit with the injury side of things. I missed a fair few years, and so has he, especially recently.

“He was someone when I came on to tour that was always willing to give some advice. I practiced with him a fair bit, I played doubles with him at Indian Wells, so we have a fairly good relationship.”

Murray’s litany of injuries is well-documented. On Tuesday, at 35 and with a metal hip, he upset 13th seed Matteo Berrettini for his first top-20 scalp in six years. Kokkinakis jokes that he wishes he “had metal body parts” because “they might have held up a little bit better”. At 26, the South Australian has dealt with shoulder, pectoral, groin, knee and elbow problems along with a bout of glandular fever in early 2020 that left him in hospital and 14kg lighter.

Thanasi Kokkinakis and Andy Murray during practice at Wimbledon last June
Thanasi Kokkinakis and Andy Murray during practice at Wimbledon last June – Thursday’s match will be only their second meeting in competition. Photograph: Javier Garcia/Shutterstock

“Everyone has their own thing to deal with,” he says. “I definitely wouldn’t say my physique is A1 all the time. I feel if there’s anyone that can relate to injuries, it’s Andy.”

The past 12 months have been better for the world No 159, though he is still yet to progress past the second round in Melbourne, with the third round of the 2015 French Open his best grand slam tournament result. And as Murray recovers from his physically taxing five-setter, Kokkinakis must mentally reset after waiting almost 24 hours to wrap up his rain-delayed first-round match with another Italian, Fabio Fognini. He was five points from victory when play was abandoned on Tuesday night, and had to wait until Wednesday evening to get back on court for the three minutes he required to finish the job 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.

“I didn’t get much sleep,” he says. “I’ve never been in that sort of position before. Aim [I] just tried to stay focused and worry about myself.

“I watched a fair bit of his match against Berrettini, and he played great. He is looking in good shape. He may have lost a little bit but his anticipation is just as good as ever, and he can still play at the top with the best of them. I’m going to be ready for the best version of Murray, and I’m going to go out there and play my game, play aggressive, and hopefully come out best.”

Murray, for his part, has enjoyed a fruitful preparation almost contrary to his other experiences of recent years, and will hunt a place in the third round of a grand slam for the first time since 2017. Do that, and either the Spanish 24th seed Roberto Bautista Agut or American qualifier Brandon Holt awaits.

“It’s obviously not that easy to recover from a four-hour, 45-minute match,” Murray said on Tuesday. “But I have put myself in the best chance to be able to do that with the training and stuff that I’ve done the last few months. I wouldn’t expect myself to feel perfect on Thursday, but hopefully I’ll be in a good place.”



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