Injury-plagued Kokkinakis back in the winner's circle
AFTER 662 days, surgery and a string of false starts, Thanasi Kokkinakis is back in the winner's circle.
The gifted South Australian posted his first main draw ATP World Tour victory since downing Alexandr Dolgopolov in August, 2015 in Winston-Salem with a 6-4 7-5 triumph over Russian Mikhail Youzhny in Holland.
Kokkinakis said he felt nervous while trying to put former world No. 8 Youzhny away, after so long without a singles win.
"It was very tough (to close it out)," Kokkinakis said.
"I didn't get off to a great start, but then came back and played pretty well. "I was up 6-4, 4-2 and serving really well, but I knew it was going to be tough to keep serving that well the whole match.
"He really started playing a lot better at the back end of the second set. I got a bit tighter for sure. I hadn't served out a match in a long time. It was good to get those nerves out the way."
While he got the breakthrough win over Youzhny, Kokkinakis said he is still dealing with getting his body right as Wimbledon approaches. "It feels great to be competing again, there's only so long you can practise for. It's so frustrating being on the practice court for ages," he said. "Physically I'm not 100 per cent, still got some things I need to sort out with my body. I'm trying to manage it while I'm playing. That's the tough part. I'm trying to get the matches in and that workload into my body."
Shoulder surgery, pectoral and abdominal injuries have sidelined Kokkinakis since he climbed to a career-high ranking of No 69.
The right-hander contested only one singles match in 2016, losing in the first round of the Rio Olympic Games.
After winning the Brisbane doubles and training with Roger Federer in Dubai, Kokkinakis resumed in singles in Lyon last month before pushing Kei Nishikori over four tough sets at the French Open.
Pitted against wily Youzhny in the Netherlands, Kokkinakis barrelled 16 aces to earn a shot at fellow 21-year-old Daniil Medvedev at the Ricoh Open.
In Stuttgart, Bernard Tomic advanced to a Mercedes Cup clash with Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych with a 6-1 5-7 6-2 margin over France's Stephane Robert.
Leading 5-1 in the second set, Tomic suddenly lost his way before advancing.
The victory elevated Tomic to a provisional ranking of No 49 - 17 places shy of regaining a grand slam seeding - with the chance to climb higher in Halle and then Eastbourne.
Wimbledon starts on July 3.