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Will it happen? Kokkinakis eyes Nadal clash

Thanasi Kokkinakis (left) was only 17 when he first played against Rafael Nadal at the 2014 Australian Open. Picture: AAP Image
Thanasi Kokkinakis (left) was only 17 when he first played against Rafael Nadal at the 2014 Australian Open. Picture: AAP Image

Summer sensation Thanasi Kokkinakis is daring to dream about a second crack at Rafael Nadal, eight years after facing the 20-time grand slam champion on Rod Laver Arena.

The resurgent Australian remains in contention for this week’s Adelaide International title and drew a qualifier in his Australian Open first-round match – but the potential Nadal clash in round two awaits.

Their only meeting to date was way back in 2014, after Kokkinakis won his debut Australian Open match in four sets over Dutchman Igor Sijsling.

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Nadal was the world No.1 at the time and won 6-2 6-4 6-2 inside two hours, but Kokkinakis earned three break points and remembers the match as “a pretty cool experience”.

“I played two days before against Igor Sijsling – my first grand slam win – and the emotions were just off the charts,” Kokkinakis said.

Thanasi Kokkinakis is into a second-straight ATP Tour semi-final in Adelaide. Picture: Getty Images
Thanasi Kokkinakis is into a second-straight ATP Tour semi-final in Adelaide. Picture: Getty Images

“I was 17 at the time, so I was pretty raw, but I remember it being that hot that day and also that hot when I played Rafa that they had to close the roof.

“We ended up playing on Rod Laver (Arena) and I thought I didn’t do too badly. Honestly, I had like little sniffs here and there.

“Obviously, he was a way better player but I had a couple of little chances.”

Nadal hadn’t played a competitive match for five months before winning last week’s Melbourne Summer Set title because of a foot injury, then contracted Covid-19 in December.

But his effort to beat American Maxime Cressy in the Melbourne final showed he was primed to contend for a second Australian Open title.

“He’s so resilient. What he’s been able to do over the years is nothing short of impressive,” Kokkinakis said.

Rafael Nadal could take on Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round at the Australian Open. Picture: AFP
Rafael Nadal could take on Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round at the Australian Open. Picture: AFP

“Just to stay motivated after all he’s done; to just keep wanting more and wanting to play – it just shows the love of the game and he’s one of the best competitors there is.”

There could have been a second meeting with Nadal at the 2019 US Open, but Kokkinakis re-tore a pectoral muscle in his first-round victory over Ilya Ivashka and had to withdraw from the event.

Kokkinakis, now 25, said he was “pretty shattered” to miss out on that opportunity, on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

He already boasts the scalps of some of the world’s best players, including Roger Federer, Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych, and would love to add Nadal to the list.

“I’ll focus on here and I’m not looking past the qualifier, because obviously there are a lot of great players,” he said.

“But it’d be good if I could win and get another shot at (Nadal).”

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