Last year Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios played in the Wimbledon Boys’ Championship – this week they showed how they might play as men.
South Australian 17-year-old Kokkinakis said he got a handy lesson in what it takes from world No.1 Rafael Nadal in their Australian Open round-two clash.
He lost in straight sets 6-2 6-4 6-2 on Thursday but won a fan, with Nadal saying the 17-year-old he had the potential to be an elite player.
“He has fantastic potential,” Nadal said.
“He has a great serve and a great forehand – all the ingredients to be a fantastic player.”
Nadal ripped 16 winners and only made three unforced errors in a sizzling opening set that served as warning to other contenders after he missed last year’s Open through injury.
He will face Gael Monfils in round three after the Frenchman beat American Jack Sock 7-6 (7-2) 7-5 6-2 on Thursday night.
South Australian Kokkinakis, who was making his grand slam debut, described the Spaniard as a “beast” and was in awe of his physicality.
“Physically, it’s the thing I need most to improve,” he said.
“I’ve got a way to go to get that strong and fit.”
He felt good once he got into a rally with Nadal, but admitted he was troubled by his serve.
“Although it’s not huge power it’s definitely difficult to return.”
Nadal made his Australian Open debut also as a 17-year-old, losing a tight three-setter to Lleyton Hewitt in the third round.
He felt Kokkinakis was part of the next generation of tennis stars to emerge.
“He has a great future he has the right level to be on the tour very soon, just keep working and that will happen,” Nadal said.
Kokkinakis was thrilled that a player he had long admired had given him such encouragement.
“He’s obviously a legend of the game and for him to say that is a real big plus for me.
“I’ve got a lot of development to do and I just need to keep working.”
The Australian Open and US Open junior runner-up last year, he said he was done with juniors and wanted to play with the “big guys”.
He will join Australia’s Davis Cup squad camp following the Open and travel with the team to France next month.
Thanasi’s close friend Nick Kyrgios then stepped up a notch in his night time match, losing in five sets.
The 18-year-old was both flashy and fearless, but ultimately undone by cramps, as he fell to French 27th seed Benoit Paire 6-7 (7-5) 6-7 (7-5) 6-4 6-2 6-2 in the early hours of Friday.
He was the last remaining Australian male in the singles draw following the earlier elimination of Kokkinakis.
Kyrgios was reduced to a virtual bystander in the final two sets after more than three hours on Margaret Court Arena.
Kyrgios was happy to look at the positives rather than what might have been.
“Playing someone who’s top 30 in the world and taking him to five sets isn’t a bad result,” he said.
“It was an honour to be out there.”
The Canberra player said he would be better for the experience.
“It’s all the process and the more matches you play like that, the more experience and the more miles you get on your legs.
“Hopefully next time it (the cramping) won’t happen.”
Paire now faces unheralded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut who upset fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro 4-6 6-3 5-7 6-4 7-5.
In a match that finished at 1.38am Kyrgios delighted a raucous crowd with his massive serve and forehand coupled with a never-say-die attitude.
Typical of his shot-making, he saved set point in the second with a ridiculous half volley off his feet.
Kyrgios also won fans in the tennis world with defending women’s champion Victoria Azarenka tweeting “Australian tennis men’s future is looking really good #wow”.
But the Frenchman played with similar panache, overcoming some early trouble with his erratic forehand and a knee problem that required a medical time out.
He saved three break points that would have seen Kyrgios level at 5-5 in the third set and then served out the set to remain alive in the match.
With Kyrgios barely able to move in the final set with leg cramps, Paire took control to come back from two sets down for the first time ever.
“It was a really good match and I was really happy to win,” said Benoit.
“He was playing unbelievable in the first two sets.
“He was then tired and cramping which helped me.”
HOW THE AUSSIES FARED
Men’s singles, round 2:
Thanasi Kokkinakis lost to 1-Rafael Nadal (Esp) 6-2 6-4 6-2
Nick Kyrgios lost to 27-Benoit Paire (Fra) 6-7 (7-5) 6-7 (7-5) 6-4 6-2 6-2
Women’s singles, round 2:
Olivia Rogowska lost to Elina Svitolina (Ukr) 6-4 7-5
Men’s doubles, round 1:
Rameez Junaid/Adrian Mannarino (Fra) lost to 7-Rohan Bopanna (Ind)/Aisam Qureshi (Pak) 6-3 4-6 7-6 (7-5)
Alex Bolt/Andrew Whittington bt Julian Knowle (Aut)/Vasek Pospisil (Can) 1-2 ret
15-John Peers/Jamie Murray (Gbr) bt Matt Reid/Luke Saville (Aus) 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (8-6)
Women’s doubles, round 1:
5-Ashleigh Barty/Casey Dellacqua bt Alexandra Panova (Rus)/Karolina Pliskova (Cze) 6-1 6-1
Samantha Stosur/Svetlana Kuznetsova (Rus) bt Irina Buryachok (Ukr)/Oksana Kalashnikova (Geo) 6-1 6-2
Tammi Patterson/Arina Rodionova (Rus) lost to 6-Cara Black (Zim)/Sania Mirza (Ind) 6-1 6-4
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