In-form Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis and a host of his countrymen will have to draw upon their fighting spirit after being on the receiving end of a brutal draw at the Australian Open.
Wildcard Kokkinakis has drawn a qualifier first up but should he progress is likely to have to face 20-time grand slam winner Rafael Nadal.
Australia’s top-ranked men’s player, world No.34 Alex de Minaur, is on a collision course with world No.8 Casper Ruud in the third round, while Nick Kyrgios could face world No.2 Daniil Medvedev in round two.
A first-up win for Alexei Popyrin will see him take on world No.26 Dan Evans or former world No.7 David Goffin in the second round, while world No.11 Jannik Sinner looms large for Jordan Thompson in the second round.
If James Duckworth makes it through to the second round, he is likely to face world No.10 Hubert Hurkacz.
Kyrgios, who has drawn a qualifier first up, faces arguably the biggest challenge, given that he hasn’t played any lead-up events after testing positive to COVID-19.
Kokkinakis has taken on Nadal once before – in the second round of the 2014 Australian Open.
Then just a teenager, Kokkinakis showed flashes of promise on the way to a 6-2 6-4 6-2 loss.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” Kokkinakis said.
“I was 17 at the time. Pretty raw.
“I thought I didn’t do too bad, honestly. I had like a little sniff here and there. Obviously, he was the way better player.
“I had a couple chances. He’s so resilient. What he’s been able to do over the years is nothing short of impressive. He’s one of the best competitors there is.”
Kokkinakis was set to take on Nadal in the second round of the 2019 US Open, but he was forced to withdraw with a torn pectoral.
“I wasn’t in good shape. I was pretty shattered I had to miss that,” Kokkinakis said.
“It would be good if I could win (the first round) and get another shot at him.”
Kokkinakis will face 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic in the Adelaide International 2 semi-finals after downing fellow Australian Aleksandar Vukic on Thursday.
In the first set alone, Kokkinakis blew nine break point opportunities, and he literally beat himself up over the missed chances.
“I did slap myself in the face,” Kokkinakis said.
“I have a bit of a headache because I hit myself in the head with my racquet a few times. Probably harder than I should have.
“I reckon I’m feeling it to be honest.”
Image credit: The Guardian