By Alana Mitchelson
(January 16, 2014) MELBOURNE – Rafael Nadal put an end to young hopeful Thanasi Kokkinakis’ Australian Open debut on Thursday night in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, but the 17-year-old Australian has nothing to be ashamed of.
The final score did little to reflect Kokkinakis’ fair game, which was weakened by a somewhat lacking return of service and his less experienced game mentality. This became especially apparent when it came to taking control of critical points or breaking serve to stay in the match.
Even the world No. 1 himself was impressed by Kokkinakis’ form, acknowledging the true potential evolving in this young athlete who is only just beginning to forge his career on the ATP tour.
”When you are a young player, the main goal is to keep improving in all aspects,” Nadal said encouragingly.
“He has a great serve for a 17-year-old… he will be serving better and better every year. He has a good forehand. If he is able to improve with being humble, being around the right people that don’t make you feel like you are a star before the right time, he will have the chance to be a great player. That’s my feeling. He has everything to do it.
“Kokkinakis is one of these ones that can be there in the next couple of years.”
After dominating the first set with curving, top spin loaded forehands, Nadal did allow his game to slip a little in the second which handed Kokkinakis some opportunities to pressure the Spaniard’s serve.
While the Australian lifted his aggression at such times, he faltered at all too crucial moments, as Nadal’s deep drives consistently clipped the chalk at the baseline throughout rally points, the ball ricocheting up into the teenager’s body as he tried to quickly re-adjust his positioning to find range on the ball.
”I thought he played really well early. I mean, if you don’t get it deep to him, he just runs you around the court,” Kokkinakis explained of his experience having played the world No. 1, one of his tennis idols.
“There’s that balance of trying to get it deep. And then if you hit it too short, he’s moving you around. Then you go for too much and that creates errors. That’s why he’s so good.
“I think he was serving something like 75% first serves. It moves a lot. Although it’s not huge power, it’s definitely awkward to return.
”Just physically, he’s a beast. I’ve obviously got a way to go to get that strong and fit… He just does everything well. I was just trying to be aggressive and see where I could kind of create errors and hit winners. These experiences show the level you need to get to.”
With nothing to lose and everything to gain, the Aussie teenager gave the second set his best shot. He made just 15 unforced errors, one less Nadal’s 16, but failed to manage a single break on the Grand Slam champion as the match drew to an abrupt close.
Nadal was happy to have powered through another quick as he progresses into the third round of the Australian Open 2014 and was content with his overall performance.
“I think I played a great first set – not many mistakes, serving well, finishing the set playing aggressive with my forehand.
”The second set I didn’t play as good as I played the first. I stopped a little bit. I played with less intensity. Playing with less intensity equals more mistakes and that’s what happened. It was important that the serve was there during the whole match. And, in my opinion, in the third set I finished the match playing well again, good forehands down the line. That’s given me a lot last year, so it’s the way to keep improving.”
Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.