World No. 1 Rafael Nadal reached the second round in Melbourne in his first match back on Rod Laver Arena in almost two years. The Spaniard will face Australian wildcard entrant Thanasi Kokkinakis for a spot in the third round of the tournament. This is the first time these two athletes will meet on the professional tour and it will be interesting to see how the budding Aussie talent handles the spotlight.
The 2009 Australian Open champion was back on Rod Laver Arena for the first time since his 5+ hour final in 2012 against Novak Djokovic. The Spaniard missed last year’s Open due to an illness and partially because he was in his final stage of recovery from a career-threatening knee injury. The 27-year-old returned for a staggering comeback last year, where he won 10 ATP Titles including two Grand Slams (Roland Garros and US Open), 5 Masters 1000 titles, and boosted himself back into the top spot in the Emirates ATP rankings.
Nadal, who is after his 14th Grand Slam title, is undefeated with a 6-0 match record in 2014. The Spaniard began his year with a victory at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha before arriving in Melbourne to begin his Grand Slam campaign. His first task was 21-year-old local favourite Bernard Tomic, who had encountered Nadal two years prior on the same stage. Rafa would take the opening set 6-4, but Tomic would soon retire citing an injury he had sustained in practice the day before.
“It’s very tough to go out of a tournament like this when you are playing at home, when you are playing night session with full crowd,” said Nadal. “I felt really sorry for Bernard. I was in that situation a few years ago and I know how tough it is to take that decision. But if you feel bad, there is no reason why you have to continue. You put in risk the next tournaments for nothing.”
Nadal is next scheduled to face 17-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis for a spot in the third round. The Spaniard is aware of the task at hand and admits that he believes that the youngster has a bright future ahead of him.
“I practised with him in the past,” said Nadal. “I met him the other day in the Babolat event. He has a great future and will be a very tough match for me if I am not able to play my best. I am going to try to play well.”
Kokkinakis, ranked World No. 570, upset Igor Sijsling 7-6(4), 0-6, 7-6(3), 6-2 in his Grand Slam debut – a remarkable victory for the teenager. Last year, budding talent managed to reach the finals of the junior singles tournaments at both the Australian Open and the US Open.
“I’m really happy I will have played two of the greatest players to play the game. I’m playing Nadal in a couple days’ time. I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’ll go out there to win.”
While Kokkinakis is undoubtedly brimming with talent and potential, his lack of experience against high-ranked opponents, particularly on a Grand Slam stage, will certainly be his disadvantage come Thursday evening. Nadal is far too experienced on this stage and will apply the necessary pressure to trouble Thanasi before eventually dismantling him in straight sets.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal in Straight Sets