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By Blair Henley / Thursday, January 16, 2014


Though he's only 17, Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis has proven he has major star power. Check out his conversation with Rafael Nadal before their second round matchup. 

Photo Courtesy: Babolat

MELBOURNE, Australia -- It has been a big week for 17-year-old Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis. He played and won the first Grand Slam match of his career in front of his home crowd in a four-set match against Igor Sjisling. He’ll face world No. 1 Rafael Nadal Thursday, but the two won’t be meeting for the first time as they step out on the court. Just days before the Australian Open kicked off, Kokkinakis had a chance to interview Nadal at an event for their mutual sponsor, Babolat. Perhaps the teen’s best question for Nadal focused on their Day Four showdown: “If we both win our first round here, we play each other. Will you be nervous?” Find out what Nadal had to say below.
Thanasi Kokkinakis: You happy to be here? What is your favorite memory?
Rafa Nadal: It’s good to be back in this place where you have great memories. Memories, I have a lot of ones. The last one is the final against Novak in 2012. That is a great memory. It was a great match. I was really close to winning. And for sure 2009 was a special one that I won the final against Roger and the semis against Verdasco. Back to back, very tough matches.
TK: Any regrets from your time in Australia?
RN: It’s been the toughest Grand Slam for me to play because I’ve had a lot of problems in this tournament in the past. In 2006, I didn’t play because I had an injury on the feet. I remember 2010, I had to retire against Andy in the quarterfinals. In 2011, I tore a little bit the muscle in the quarterfinals against David Ferrer, and last year I didn’t have the chance to play. So it’s a tougher one in my career to play. The [Australian Open] organization is the best one for the players. It is more friendly with players, and players feel very special about this tournament.
TK: Australian fans want to know if you would ever considered playing warm-up tournaments in Australia like Sydney and Brisbane.
RN: Well, you never know. Tough to think about this. The normal thing that I do is I don’t play the week before a Grand Slam. I like to play two weeks before then rest the week before and practice at the tournament and prepare myself well. The conditions, even though everybody says they are the same, there are always changes. I like to prepare for the tournament one week before. Brisbane, you never know. Normally we play an exhibition in Abu Dhabi before the first tournament and then we finish normally on Saturday night. [A flight to] Brisbane, it’s a very long flight. That’s why I play in Doha because it’s one hour by the plane and same time [zone].
TK: Since he always gets to finals and wins, he’s got to have enough time (laughs). You often practice with juniors. What are the positives you see in these practices?
I always like to play with young players. When I was a young player, I loved it when I had the chance to play with a professional player. I try to do the same things that I like when I was a kid. I really have fun playing and practicing every day. It’s good because you feel free to work on what you want. You feel a little more free to say, “Can we do that? Can we do another thing?” When you play with another professional player, everybody wants to work on his thing. Ninety percent of the time we warm-up and play a set. We don’t work on specific things.
TK: Do you see anything different when you were a junior compared to the juniors you play now? Evolution in game style or something like that?
RN: No. I don’t remember very well that era for me. Today the young players are starting on tour a little bit later. You can see the average age on the professional tour is older than when I started playing tennis. My generation, say Novak, Andy, del Potro, Hewitt, Federer, Moya, all of these guys came on the tour at a young age. I went top 100 when I was 16, so I cannot remember very well because I went straight from Futures to professional. I think something is changing in the world of tennis. The players become professional later. I really don’t see the reason why that’s happening. We have to find the reason.
TK: When you play tournaments around the world, do you get any quality time to visit stuff away from the tennis courts, or do you think you’ll have to go back when you finish playing tennis?
RN: Yeah, I have to go back to a lot of places that I have been. It’s difficult when you are at a tournament to visit places. You practice, you work more at the gym and the tennis court, and then you work with your physio. It’s very difficult to find time. Me, normally, I go for dinner everyday outside, but not very often I have the chance to have interesting visits.
TN: If we both win our first round here, we play each other. Will you be nervous?
RN: (Laughter) Sure. I am always nervous (smiling).


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