Inside The Training Routine Powering Thanasi Kokkinakis To A Career Best Year - Men's Health Magazine Australia

Inside The Training Routine Powering Thanasi Kokkinakis To A Career Best Year

We had a chat with Thanasi Kokkinakis’ strength and conditioning coach Jona Segal for an inside look into the training routine that Thanasi believes will elevate his play to another level.

Coming off a year that featured his first ATP title, a grand slam doubles victory and an appearance at the ATP tour finals, Thanasi Kokkinakis is setting his sights even higher. The 26-year-old came into this year’s Australian Open in scintillating form. Having defeated a top ten player in Andrey Rublev less than a week earlier, the stage was set for Thanasi to finally advance beyond the grand slam’s second round. Instead, after a five-set battle with former world number one Andy Murray, Thanasi once again came up short.

A result like this would demoralise most tennis players, but Thanasi is more than comfortable overcoming setbacks. The 26-year-old has fought off a number of serious injuries throughout his career, but he’s never let anything get in the way of improving his craft during his journey to the top. And a tough loss against one of the greatest tennis players of all time won’t change that.

Thanasi believes 2023 is the year that he will reach his full potential. “I think I’ve set myself up for a big year again, I’m hoping to get into the top 50,” he told 9 News. “If I’m healthy and keep pushing and playing like I did in the summer I think I’ve got a good chance.”

If Thanasi is serious about achieving his goals, a major factor will be staying fit consistently. In 2016, he missed all four grand slams’ due to a nagging shoulder injury and a pulled pectoral muscle that was never surgically repaired. Injuries have been the 26-year-old’s Achilles heel throughout his career. That’s what makes strength and conditioning coach Jona Segal so important.

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Jona has worked with Thanasi for the last two years after spending 21 years in the AFL as the high-performance manager of the North Melbourne Kangaroo’s. Getting Thanasi fit and preventing injuries has since been a key focus of his training. “We spoke a lot about what he’d been through. He felt that there were a few things that were limiting his tennis and his ability to have consistency over a full season.” Jona says. “That shapes a lot of the stuff that we do in the gym.”

The physical demands of tennis are only part of the challenge. Mental toughness is just as important. “Coming from the AFL, we dove into performance psyche, mindset and mental skills. But in tennis as a sport, I think the requirement is 20-fold higher,” says Jona.

Tennis players are alone on the court. When they mess up, there’s no one else to shoulder the blame, or even give words of encouragement. The mental aspect of the sport is often the deciding factor in close matches, something Thanasi and Jona know all too well after Thanasi’s five-set battle with Andy Murray, which ended in crushing defeat for Thanasi. “Andy Murray in that match was so mentally tough, unyielding and relentless. That comes from years of application and hard work.” Jona says.

Thanasi has reignited his career since he started training with Jona, with their strong relationship crucial for future success. “While training with him we push each other, which carries into being another support mechanism for him.” Jona says. “We are a work in progress like every athlete, but I think he’s starting to reap some of the rewards from buying into this process.”

Thanasi Kokkinakis’ Training Routine

The training routines of tennis players must adapt to the relentless schedule of the ATP tour, which often schedules tournaments to begin the day after another ends. As Jona says “You’re at the mercy of how things are going in tournament play.” That being said, the preseason period around mid-November to late December allows for a more regular and heavier training workload. Below is the training routine that Thanasi used to get energised and powered-up for a massive 2023, according to Jona.

On court practice – 5 days per week.

Strength training – 4 days per week at least.

Circuit training – 2-3 days per week.

Cardio and running – 3 days per week.

Sand or stair session – 1 day per week.

Thanasi’s routine changes throughout the year when he transitions to a new surface, when a big tournament is coming up, or when he needs to work on something specific. “If Thanasi goes deep into a tournament, the priority is recovery because there’ll be another tournament starting potentially the next day,” says Jona. “If there’s an early an early exit, we prioritise any physical areas that we want to sharpen up or get some additional time on court.”

Thanasi Kokkinakis’ Typical Training Day

 

Time is crucial when it comes to training as a tennis player. With the early Australian summer the only open space on the crowded ATP calendar, Thanasi and Jona must put in long hours almost every day of the week as part of a gruelling training routine. “Preseason days are big,” says Jona. “We do at least six to seven hours of training as an absolute minimum.” Below is what a typical preseason day of training looks like for Thanasi. Unless you’re a high-performance athlete, you most likely couldn’t handle it.

Stretch – 10 minutes.

Circuit cross training – 30 minutes.

Footwork Training – 30 minutes.

On court practice – 3 hours.

Midday rest – 1 hour.

Weights training (either lower-body, upper-body or core) – 1.5 hours.

Cardio/running – 30 minutes.

Recovery – 1 hour.

MH: How long have you been working with Thanasi?

Jona Segal: I’ve been working with him for just over two years.

Have you always worked with tennis players? Or do you have a background in other sports?

I worked in the AFL for 21 years before working with Thanasi. I was with North Melbourne as their high-performance manager and as a strength and conditioning coach.

Is there any crossover between those two sports?

They’re very different. There are some principles that crossover between all sports. But the specificity of tennis makes it a unique sport.

Does Thanasi’s extensive injury history change the way that you train?

The first few discussions we had we spoke a lot about what he’d been through from an injury perspective and there were a couple of key issues that he wanted to address. He felt that there were a few things that were limiting his tennis and his ability to have consistency over a full season.He had a pec rupture, which is the biggest concern for him because it was never surgically repaired. That had a big impact on how he served and how his body could tolerate large volumes of activity. We had to put a lot of work into fixing that and that shapes a lot of the stuff that we do in the gym for injury prevention.

How many times a week do you and Thanasi train?

In preseason we train five days a week with a mixture of different types of training. On-court practice we do five times a week. Then at least four times a week we do strength stuff in the gym depending on the phase of training we’re up to. There’s also circuit training two to three times a week. We run three times a week and we do a sand or stair session once a week.

What does a typical training day look like?

On a typical preseason day we often start with a stretch and then get into a circuit with 30 to 40 minutes of cross training. We’ll spend 20 to 30 minutes on footwork. He might be on court for three 3 and a half hours after that. Follow that up with rest and lunch for an hour and then we’d be back in the gym for an hour or an hour and a half doing either strength work or core. Sometimes we go to a beach or track or to do some running later in the day for an additional conditioning session followed by recovery.Preseason days are big. We do at least six to seven hours of training as an absolute minimum.

How does the training routine adapt throughout the year when Thanasi starts playing more regularly?

Preseason normally starts sometime during November and it’ll wrap up by the end of December because by January 1st, you’re already playing tournaments.

You’re at the mercy of how things are going in tournament play. If Thanasi goes deep into a tournament, which might be four or five matches, physically the priority is recovery because there’ll be another tournament starting potentially the next day or a couple of days later. If there’s an early an early exit, you might have five or six days up your sleeve. Then we prioritise any physical areas that we want to sharpen up or get some additional time on court.

Throughout the year we might pick a two or three-week window where we say ‘ok, no tournaments’ and have a week of recovery without the rackets. That allows Thanasis to freshen up mentally and physically. That’s a good way of injecting a little more general conditioning during the relentless tennis season, which runs for pretty much 11 or 12 months of the year.

Our training also changes when we change surfaces and need to adapt to a new court. We typically spend an extra week getting Thanasis used to that new surface because the movement patterns are different and you use your muscles differently. We use this period to allow for adaptation and to mitigate any injury concerns.

Is there anything in particular that you’ve changed with Thanasi’s workout regimen that you’ve found has helped?

We have a great relationship and while training with him we sort of push each other which carries into being able to be another support mechanism for him. We are a work in progress like every athlete, but I think he’s starting to reap some of the rewards from buying into this process.

How important is developing mental toughness in tennis?

Coming from the AFL, we dove into performance psyche, mindset and mental skills. But in tennis as a sport, I think the requirement is 20-fold higher. As the only player on the court there are extreme mental challenges. I think that’s probably the biggest area of difficulty for tennis players. It’s pretty brutal. Andy Murray in the Australian open was so mentally tough, unyielding and relentless, which comes from years of application and hard work.

Last year Thanasis won the Adelaide International heading into the Australian Open, but then went out in the first round. This year he had another great lead up period with big wins in Adelaide and a win Melbourne before going out in that gruelling five set thriller against Andy Murray. After tough, mentally draining results like that, how difficult is it to bounce back?

Last year it was extraordinary because that Adelaide title was the first ATP tournament Thanasis had won and it was a massive high. But we knew that Thanasis was scheduled to play the first round of the Aussie Open on the first day of the tournament, which was only two days after the final in Adelaide. We spoke before he even played the quarter finals of that Adelaide tournament about ‘are we committed to this or do we wanna pull the pin and go to Melbourne?’ The decision was made that because we were in such a strong position in Adelaide, it just didn’t make sense to give up an opportunity like that. And no one regrets that for a second.

This year again Thanasis was playing really good tennis at the second Adelaide event and we found out that his first match at the Aus Open would be on the second day and that was massive. We knew we were going to have at least three or four days to get set in Melbourne. We went in really positive, but with rain delays the start time of the first match spilled over past midnight. We sat around for most of the day waiting for that match to start and ultimately Thanasi was just burned by that and lost a lot of the positive momentum he had heading in. He was still great against Andy Murray, but it was a very unique match and for a number of reasons he fell just short.

 

By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything sports and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or staying up late watching sports in incompatible time zones.

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