In only his second full year on the professional tour, things were looking up for Daniel Kosakowski. He had just reached his first career Challenger final at an event in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, beating four quality players in the process. This result earned him 48 ATP points, shooting him up the rankings to a career high of number 230 in the world.
“I had just got acceptance into the qualifying draw for both the French Open and Wimbledon, two of my favorite tournaments growing up. I always dreamed of playing there,” said Kosakowski.
However, during his time in Mexico, Daniel began to feel a slight pain in his right shoulder. He didn’t think much of it at the time, because he was told it was just mild tendonitis, and he was playing some of the best tennis of his career. But as he traveled to Brazil to play a couple challenger events, the injury worsened. MRI results showed that he had suffered multiple ganglion cysts and a slight labral tear, and that surgery might be necessary.
He opted to undergo an aspiration. It was the least invasive and quickest way to fix the problem. This along with rest and physical therapy meant that Kosakowski was going to miss the next 6 months.
“It was devastating. But the time off really put things in perspective for me, and when I was able to come back on court I really took tennis more like a full time job,” Kosakowski said.
The 21 year old from Downey, California comes from a strong tennis playing family, with both his brother and sister playing at the collegiate level. Daniel entered the 2010-2011 as the top ranked recruit in the country, and chose to stay close to home and compete at UCLA. He spent the entire year playing #1 singles for the Bruins, and earned Rookie of the Year honors in the Pac 12.
Kosakowski decided to forgo his final three years in college to pursue his dream of playing professional tennis. “I played a lot of great players, but if I had stayed a year or two more my game might have plateaued, so I felt that to improve I needed to bump up to a higher level, challenge myself,” he said.
The transition to the pro tour is often very difficult for players, but Kosakowski had some immediate success by winning a 15K Futures tournament in Sacramento in June of 2011, defeating one of his rivals in college, Steve Johnson, in the final. He notched his first ATP World Tour victory later that summer, by winning three qualifying matches and defeating Tim Smyczek in the first round of the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles, California. He played futures for the majority of next few months, before transitioning to the Challenger tour in 2012.
“The jump from futures to challengers is huge. The fitness level of most main draw players is much higher, and the mental aspect plays a much larger role in matches,” Kosakowski said.
Kosakowski showed constant improvement over the next year and half, before suffering the shoulder injury. Now that he’s back to being 100% healthy, Daniel has had a good start to 2014. He reached the third round of the Australian Open qualifying, and reached the semi-finals of the Chitre Challenger last week. He’s beaten four top 200 players this year, and is looking to really gain some ground in the rankings this season.
“I’m going to take a hit after San Luis, but after that I have nothing to defend, so with the way I’m playing right now I think I can improve my ranking quite a bit, and hopefully get inside the top 200 by the end of the year,” Kosakowski said.
Daniel is one of only a handful of American players that uses a one-handed backhand, and he’s been working on that shot in particular extensively with his new coach Steven Amitraj. He feels his biggest strengths are his forehand and his fitness, but has been working hard on becoming a more complete player. Along with hitting for 3.5-4 hours per day, Daniel spends at least an hour a day focusing solely on fitness. Growing up he felt like he was never the most talented guy, but made up for that by “working twice as hard to catch up with everyone else.”
Kosakowski will turn 22 later this month, and will head down to Mexico to play a challenger in Morelos. It’s been a long road back for the youngster from So-Cal, but he knows he’ll give everything he’s got to reach his goals.
“When I turned 15, something happened inside me. I started having a lot more passion for the sport, and when I saw the improvement in my game I really started to believe in myself. I never imagined I would be where I’m at today, but I think my ceiling is very high and I’m going to work as hard as I can to reach my potential.”