Injury-plagued rising star Thanasi Kokkinakis has made a successful return to the court to help power Australia to victory over Canada in their Hopman Cup tie in Perth.
Daria Gavrilova gave Australia the perfect start on Sunday with a 6-1, 6-4 demolition of former world number five Eugenie Bouchard in 78 minutes before Kokkinakis secured the tie win with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory over world number 108 Vasek Pospisil.
Kokkinakis has been dogged by injuries over the past two years, with shoulder, groin, elbow, and abdominal problems threatening to cut short his promising career.
The 21-year-old had not played since losing in the first round of the US Open in August.
But he displayed little rust in his solid win over Pospisil.
Kokkinakis has been doing pilates during the off-season in a bid to strengthen his core and groins.
The world number 209 said it had been shattering to miss the past two Australian Opens.
But he hopes he can enjoy a clean bill of health in 2018.
“I feel good. It’s the best I’ve felt in a while,” Kokkinakis said.
“It’s pretty funny. When I see new people, or people I haven’t seen for a while, it’s not even, ‘Hey, how are you doing’. They say, ‘How’s the body?’
“I’m excited to be back on Australia’s hard courts. The summer of tennis is huge.
“It’s a good start and hopefully I can stay healthy this year — it’s my only goal.”
This marks Kokkinakis’ first official appearance at the Hopman Cup.
But he was given a taste of it as a 16-year-old in 2013 when he was an injury reserve.
During that tournament, he teamed with Venus Williams for a mixed doubles clash, and also filled in for other injured players.
“It was pretty crazy. She (Williams) gave me an American Olympic team hat to wear, but it was like 10 sizes too big,” Kokkinakis recalled.
“She didn’t really say too much to me. I was pretty nervous. She was just kind of sitting there. I was like, ‘Alright, I’m playing with you’. I have real fond memories of Perth.”
Kokkinakis made a bright start to his match against Pospisil, with the crucial moment of the match coming in the sixth game of the third set.
Pospisil saved three break points from 0-40 down, before Kokkinakis set up another break point and duly converted.
Kokkinakis held serve from that point on to secure the win in one hour and 53 minutes.
In the final dead rubber, Bouchard and Pospisil defeated Gavrilova and Kokkinakis 4-3 (5-1), 4-3 (5-4).
Australia’s next tie is against Belgian duo David Goffin and Elise Mertens on Wednesday night.