“It was a tough one. Two years of my life. You never want your kid to be a part of that stuff, so it was actually very hard for them,” Jasika told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald this week.
“But I’ve come out of it a lot stronger, and I’m definitely not going to be silly ever again. I made a mistake, and it almost cost me my life, as in my tennis career.”
Jasika could easily have been just another wasted sporting talent. As sponsors justifiably departed and money dried up, he started driving trucks.
The harsh reality of his situation had well and truly kicked in by then. But he privately promised himself he would one day pay the bills again with his tennis racquet.
There was one more significant hurdle to negotiate: the COVID-19 global pandemic. It meant Jasika’s only taste of professional tennis in a four-year period was a first-round qualifying loss in a lowly event in Geelong.
Humbled, apologetic and unranked but ambitious, he sought a wildcard into qualifying for another nondescript event in Kyrgios’ home city of Canberra in February this year.
He qualified, then won a couple of rounds. By his fourth tournament back, in Bendigo, he was celebrating a title, enjoying some luck along the way when Jason Kubler retired against him with Jasika a set down.
Kubler, who went on to qualify and make the last 16 at Wimbledon in July, beat Jasika in a tight final soon after. Jasika’s comeback suddenly had legitimacy.
“I was nervous because I hadn’t seen everyone in so long,” Jasika said. “It was actually pretty scary for me [initially] … I played Kubler in one of the Futures finals and lost a pretty close match, but it made me believe.”
Jasika left Australian shores and kept winning. He eventually clocked up 93 matches this year and won 70 of them, including five singles titles, having his passport stamped in Thailand, England, Greece, Montenegro, Spain and Portugal.
Jasika’s ATP profile states he made less than $34,000 for his troubles, effectively operating at a significant loss once travel and the associated costs of the tour are factored in.
His dad, Mitch, is serving as his temporary coach, while his girlfriend, Hannah, who he met not long before igniting his comeback, spent about four months on the road with him.
The Kooyong Foundation, a long-term supporter of Jasika’s and other Australian juniors, also stood by him.
“That was honestly so lucky and incredible that I didn’t do the trip by myself because it would have made things a lot harder,” Jasika said.
“Tennis is such a lonely sport, so being on the road by yourself is not where you want to be. Who knows how different it might have been without her?”
Most importantly, Jasika is at a career-high ranking of No.230 – good enough to sneak into grand slam qualifying draws – and might even be an outside chance of an Australian Open wildcard.
He believes he is more mature and wiser off the court, as well as smarter on it, and that most people don’t “find” themselves until they’re at least 25, his age now.
Jasika has returned a much more professional player, too, than the young man who let his early success “get to my head”.
He even plans to do some motivational speaking, to help other kids avoid going down the same path he did.
“It’s been an unbelievable year for me. I set myself a goal at the start of this year to be inside 250 but, in saying that, I didn’t really think that I could get there,” Jasika said.
“I knew how much tennis has changed and everyone’s getting better and stronger, so for me to go out there and come back to 230 is honestly a dream come true for me. I’m just going to keep going now.”
Kyrgios is happy for his “little brother″, Jasika says, but it’s just the start if he has anything to do with it.
Jasika does not expect Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt to offer him an Australian Open wildcard but hopes to be in grand slam main draws off his own back as soon as next year.
That’s right – his new goal is making the top 100. “I think it’s very possible,” Jasika said.
“I’m going to play Challenger level and hopefully more ATPs next year. I don’t want to keep playing in Futures [events] because I did the whole Futures grind this year, and I was happy I got out of that pretty quick.
“I’ve got the right people around me, and I’m training well now, so fingers crossed I can get to where I want to be.”
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