South Australian teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis is relishing the prospect of playing world No.1 Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park
He’d love a date with Liz Hurley, but teenage tennis ace Thanasi Kokkinakis will settle for an Australian Open appointment with Rafael Nadal instead.
Kokkinakis will meet Nadal in the second round on Thursday after overcoming searing heat, cramps and an opponent ranked 497 places above him in a memorable grand slam debut at Melbourne Park.
The 17-year-old – who confessed to a crush on “Shane Warne’s Mrs” in the afterglow of Tuesday night’s win over world No.73 Igor Sijsling – says he’s can’t wait to take on the 13-times grand slam champion.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge. Yeah, I’ll go out there to win,” Kokkinakis said.
The Australian Open and US Open junior runner-up last year, Kokkinakis said playing former world No.1 Lleyton Hewitt at the Brisbane International two weeks ago had given him the confidence he belongs among the big boys despite his tender age.
“I’ve had a couple good experiences, qualifying in Brisbane playing Lleyton on that big centre court there,” he said.
“I think it was all a good experience for me, just to build up to play these moments.
“I’m really happy I’ve played two of the greatest players to play the game.”
An overwhelming favourite, Nadal nevertheless has ample respect for Kokkinakis having hit with him at last year’s French Open and also last week in Melbourne.
“He has a great future and will be a very tough match for me if I am not able to play my best,” the top seed said.
The other so-called “Special K” of Australian tennis is also in second-round action on Thursday.
Eighteen-year-old Nick Kyrgios, who beat Kokkinakis in last year’s Australian Open boys’ final and won the doubles with his great mate, plays Frenchman Benoit Paire, the 27th seed.
“It’s good for Australian tennis,” Kokkinakis said of having two local teenagers vying for a spot in the last 32 of their home major.
“It’s great that we both push each other. A lot of people talk about it as a rivalry but we just try to get the wins when we play.”
Olivia Rogowska is the only Australian woman featuring in singles on Thursday.
The 22-year-old plays Ukrainian Elina Svitolina with a great opportunity to reach the third round of a grand slam for the first time.