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Tennis News: 'Sick of that guy' - Kokk's AO 'nightmares', Djoker shows true colours with comments on world No.2

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28th December, 2023
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Thanasi Kokkinakis is finally fit and confident his best tennis is still to come.

But the 27-year-old isn’t sure how much longer he can do it for.

The South Australian is ranked a career-high 65 in the world entering his 11th year as a professional.

Most of those campaigns have been limited or completely written off by a wide range of injuries, thwarting the progress of a talent that showed his potential in a 2018 defeat of world No.1 Roger Federer.

“My best tennis is ahead of me but how long I’ll play, I don’t know,” he admitted before jumping on a boat in Brisbane with his Australian counterparts on Thursday.

(Photo by Sarah Reed/Getty Images)

“A lot of guys are like robots that love playing week in, week out everywhere and that’s the bit I struggle with.

“But in tennis years I’m feeling 22, 23 and still have my best tennis ahead.

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“It’s just about trying to lock in for whatever’s left in my career.”

The likelihood of several late withdrawals means Kokkinakis, who missed a wildcard, is unsure whether he’ll have to qualify or still earn a late call-up to the Brisbane International main draw from Sunday.

Andy Murray lurks in the draw too, with Kokkinakis keen to avoid him after losing a five hour, 45 minute Australian Open epic that finished at 4am in January.

Kokkinakis then won a similarly tense French Open five-setter against Stan Wawrinka, before losing a third-round tussle with Karen Khachanov in another match that left the Australian rueing missed chances.

“I’m sick of that guy, I don’t want to see him,” Kokkinakis joked of Murray.

“If I had lost that match again at the French with Stan after losing the one with Andy you probably wouldn’t see me here … that’s giving me nightmares still.”

With Nick Kyrgios injured, Kokkinakis confirmed he will partner Alexei Popyrin in the Australian Open doubles next month.

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He hopes his mate will be back on the court soon and is eager to “run it back” after they stormed to an enthralling 2022 Australian Open doubles title.

“I’ll be with the tall, lanky ostrich in the corner, Alexei,” Kokkinakis said, before inviting media to coin a nickname for the new pairing.

“Hopefully he (Nick) gets back healthy.

“You never know with injuries. I’ve had my fair share and a lot of times when you miss a lot of time a lot of other little niggles come back.

“I’m not sure when that will be, I know he’s doing everything he can.”

Meanwhile, three-time grand slam champion Andy Murray says his body feels old but there are no retirement plans on the horizon as he attempts to pull off an Australian heist.

Murray has touched down ahead of the Brisbane International – a tournament he won in 2012 and 2013.

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But it is a deep run at the Australian Open that Murray craves the most, and the 36-year-old is backing his ageing body to keep up with generation next.

“The body’s old, but I still love it, and still loving the training and travelling,” said Murray, a five-time Australian Open runner-up.

“It’s a little bit tougher now being away – you’ve got a young family, which is tough.

“But I feel good enough to compete with the best players in the world, and I’ll keep playing until I feel like I can’t do that anymore.”

Murray is 42nd in the world rankings – not bad for a player who briefly retired in 2019 due to a serious hip injury but was able to make it back onto the court later that year.

The former world No.1 was happy with how his body held up this year.

“It’s probably the most positive part of the year for me, that I was able to compete most weeks,” he said.

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“I had a little injury around the US Open time, but apart from that it was really good.

“So as long as I’m healthy, it makes it a lot more enjoyable to be out on the court.

“When you’ve got lots of injuries and stuff, the rehab is a lot harder now than when I was a lot younger. So hopefully I can stay fit.”

Murray reached the third round of the Australian Open last summer, beating Thanasi Kokkinakis in a five-set thriller along the way.

The veteran Brit says he enjoys the hot and humid conditions of Australia.

“I’m pumped. I play some of my best tennis here,” Murray said.

Djoker’s praise for rivals

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Young gun Carlos Alcaraz has squared the ledger with Novak Djokovic in their personal duel as they tuned up for the Australian Open with a mega money meeting in Saudi Arabia.

In front of cashed up crowd of princes and tycoons the 20-year-old world No.2 won 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

They each have three wins from their six encounters, although this exhibition in Riyadh is unlikely to make a dent in Djokovic’s confidence.

Watch every Australian Open match ad-free, live & on demand with centre court in 4K Ultra-HD on the home of Grand Slam tennis, Stan Sport.

The Serb was gushing in praise of his rival.

“It’s fantastic to have Alcaraz in our sport,” Djokovic said. “He is one of the leaders of this sport today and he is going to carry our sport for the next 10 to 15 years. We are going to see a lot of him, tennis is in good hands.”

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Alcaraz repaid the compliments.

“It’s incredible to share the court with him in this event and in official tournaments,” he said. “I am learning from him.

“After watching him win the big tournaments I always dreamed about being in this position and playing against him face to face.

“I am really happy to play with him and hopefully, I can keep going. He seems like he is 20 so we are going to share the court more than once.

Novak Djokovic congratulates Carlos Alcaraz.

Novak Djokovic congratulates Carlos Alcaraz after their Madrid Open semi-final. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

“I want to congratulate him and thank him for playing this match with me.”

Djokovic was far from his best in Saudi Arabia and their next potential meeting is the final of the Australian Open on January 28, as Djokovic chases a 25th Grand Slam.

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Meanwhile, Djokovic hailed the return of Rafa Nadal, who will feature in Brisbane before tackling the Open.

“It is great news for the tennis world that he’s coming back,” Djokovic said. “He hasn’t played an entire year but he is one of the legends of our sport. We want to see him play as much as possible.

“[I] hope both Carlos and me can have great matches against Rafa. It would be great for us and the sport.

“Tennis has grown so much over the last 20 years with the likes of [Roger] Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray. Everyone who has achieved great things in this sport globally.

“I think in the last two decades it has grown so much and I’m so grateful to be part of this era. Hopefully, I can still keep going with the young guys.

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“They make me very tired but I don’t give up.”

Aussies face tough test in Perth

Doubles star Matt Ebden is adamant Australia can buck the odds and beat their more highly fancied opponents on the way to being crowned United Cup champions.

The mixed-teams event begins in Perth on Friday with Australia facing a tough task to even make it out of a group featuring tournament favourites the US and Great Britain.

The US charge will be led by world No.10 Taylor Fritz and world No.5 Jessica Pegula, with the pair keen to defend their title from last summer.

World No.12 Alex de Minaur and three-time grand slam quarter-finalist Ajla Tomljanovic headline Australia’s team, with Ebden and Storm Sanders set to combine for the mixed doubles.

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Poland, featuring world No.1 Iga Swiatek and world No.11 Hubert Hurkacz, are tipped to be the main challengers to the US bid to go back-to-back, while Serbia will rely heavily on 24-time grand slam champion Novak Djokovic.

Germany have a strong team in the form of world No.7 Alexander Zverev and three-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber. 

Greece, with world No.7 Stefanos Tsitsipas and world No.9 Maria Sakkari, are also set to be strong contenders.

Australia’s campaign begins on Friday night against Great Britain, and Ebden is feeling confident.

“I believe in our team,” Ebden said.  

“I think we’ve got world-class players. I think all six of us can play at any time. 

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“Whoever’s required I would be confident in, but at the same time the event has brought basically every top 10 or top 20 player – men’s and women’s.

“So it’s the best of the best. I think that’s what we want to see. 

“That’s what we’re here for – to test ourselves and use our Australian home advantage and – of course – we’re going for the win.”

De Minaur will take on world No.18 Cameron Norrie in Australia’s clash with GB.

In the women’s singles, Tomljanovic will face de Minaur’s girlfriend Katie Boulter.

Ebden is hoping it won’t take long for him to gel with new mixed doubles partner Sanders.

“Hopefully our Western Australian energy will gel well together and we’ll do what we can,” he said.

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“It’s not something we do very often, mixed doubles.

“It’s only in the grand slams or in special events like this one. 

“I think that’s why the people like seeing that new different dynamic. It’s a bit unpredictable, a bit exciting. 

“We’re going to do our best and hopefully combine well.”

Sydney will also host games in the group stage, with the action there starting on Saturday.

There are six different groups each comprising three nations, with each group winner advancing to the quarter-finals.

A quarter-final berth will also be handed to the best runner-up in both Perth and Sydney.

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New ranking points system revealed

The ATP Tour has confirmed a revamped ranking points system for 2024, which could make it harder for players outside the top 100 to break into the elite group.

Players who win the major events will not see a big boost to their ranking, with 2,000 points still on offer for a Grand Slam title win, but there is an increase for players who finish as runner-up in one of the four major events.

Last year’s losing finalists collected 1,200 ranking points, but they will not collect 1,300 points.

The winners of the ATP Masters 1000 tournaments will still collect 1,000 ranking points, with an increase for losing finalists from 600 points to 650.

The changes are designed to optimise the points distribution following the increase in 96-draw Masters 1000 events, as well as delivering an improved balance and distribution of points following the significant increase in higher category ATP Challenger tournaments on offer to players from 2023.

The changes will only affect the singles draws for tournaments, with the points breakdown for doubles draws will remain the same as in 2023, while ATP Challenger Tour events will see small decreases in points.

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The outcome of this change is likely to see players currently in the top 50 of the game cementing their position in that list, with players outside the top 100 facing a bigger battle to break into the elite list.

Entry into ATP 1000 tournaments is decided by world rankings, so it will be tough for players operating on the ATP Challenger Tour to leap up the rankings and earn entry to the events that offer more points.

(With AAP)

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