His pal Nick Kyrgios had hailed it a not-to-be-missed “popcorn match” – but when push came to shove in the middle of the night back home, he didn’t even stay up to watch buddy Thanasi Kokkinakis star in his biggest and most successful blockbuster yet.
Perhaps finding it too stressful to ponder the idea of Kokkinakis suffering another downbeat ending to one of his now-familiar epics, after that five-set heartbreaker against Andy Murray at Melbourne Park, Kyrgios decided to bail out of watching his mate’s nail-biter with Stan Wawrinka at the French Open.
“Going to bed, I don’t want to wake up and see Kokki lose another thriller please,” he tweeted, with a gloomy-faced emoji offering his deepest fears that here was a movie that might well end up as a Paris film noir.
Indeed, even Kokkinakis himself feared the very same when former champ Wawrinka, seeming like some indestructible Murray-like terminator, simply refused to lie down, saving four match points in another nerve-shredding five-set classic.
But eventually Kokkinakis, with the biggest win of his grand slam career, subdued this tennis monster 3-6 7-5 6-3 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 after four hours 38 minutes and was able to note with a smile about his sleepy mate Kyrgios: “Hopefully he can wake up a bit happier now – I definitely will be.”
Did he feel like he’d been in a movie? “Yeah, well, the film wasn’t going very well at the start, so I wasn’t enjoying the movie too much,” smiled the likeable Adelaide warrior.
“When he was coming back in the fourth set, and the crowd was going nuts, I was, like, ‘oh, God, it’s one of these ones again … oh no, it’s happening again’. The amount of rubbish that goes through your head…
“I was, like, ’40-Love, I’ve got a bit of a cushion, stay focused’. It went back to deuce. I was, like ‘oh, no’. The crowd was going nuts. ‘I can’t lose another one of these’.”
Like the Miami Open defeat to Hubert Hurkacz when he blew five match points and, of course, that near-six hour capitulation to Murray at the Australian Open.
Yet, perversely, Kokkinakis also recalled: “They’re the fun ones, they’re what you play for. Against legends who make it really tough on you.”
“You can’t count these guys out no matter how old they are. They just play. They get better and better, and you can see why they are multiple grand slam champions.”
So when Wawrinka fought back from 40-0 to save those match points, at least Kokkinakis was ready for the madness with the Swiss happy that the crowd were all on his side, whipped up into a Davis Cup-style frenzy. “It’s always a pure pleasure,” said ‘Stan the Man’.
“Yeah, definitely a pretty crazy ending. But, I’m happy with how this movie ended,” sighed Kokkinakis.
It all made him reflect on how he’d been here eight years ago, a teenager tipped for greatness as he also made the third round, and how an extraordinary journey had followed, littered with injury interruptions, slumps and false dawns.
But at 27, the dreams are still there, the road movie’s not finished. The next one features a formidable Russian foe Karen Khachanov, the No.11 seed – and maybe his best buddy might deign to stay up to watch that one.