Nick Kyrgios has been handed a heart-pulling first-round encounter at the US Open, drawn against his great friend Thanasi Kokkinakis in an all-Australian blockbuster. And in a Flushing Meadows men’s field without Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal will open his bid for a 23rd grand slam title against Australian wildcard Rinky Hijikata when the main draw kicks off next week.
Kyrgios and Kokkinakis – the “Special Ks” when they play together as a doubles team – have been pitted against each other in a tough quarter, which also features Russia’s No 1 seed and defending champion Daniil Medvedev.
The Australian Open-winning pair, who will be also be seeking a third title of the year together in the men’s doubles, have never played against each on the main tour, though Kyrgios did win their two lower-level encounters when they were up-and-coming teens.
The No 23 seed Kyrgios, one of the favourites for the title after his run to the Wimbledon final and subsequent victory in Washington, has a minefield draw.
If he beats Kokkinakis, he will likely play dangerous French left-hander Ugo Humbert in the second round and Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, the No 16 seed in the third, before a possible match-up with Medvedev.
But the whole men’s field will feel their chances have been lifted by the absence of Djokovic, who announced on social media less than two hours before the behind-closed-doors draw that he would not be coming to New York.
So Hijikata, the 21-year-old prospect from Sydney who has been handed a wildcard as part of US tennis’s reciprocal arrangement with their Australian counterparts, has a dream – or potentially nightmarish – encounter with No 2 seed and four-time champion Nadal.
Alex de Minaur, the Australian No 1 and No 18 seed, will open against Serbian Filip Krajinovic. And there is another all-Australian clash first up with James Duckworth meeting his fellow Sydneysider Chris O’Connell, while the in-form Jason Kubler will aim to continue his breakthrough year by beating Sweden’s Mikael Ymer.
In the women’s draw, Australia’s in-form No 1 Ajla Tomljanovic will face the Czech Republic’s Karolina Muchova in her first match, and, if she got past a likely second-round opponent Martina Trevisan, could possibly meet Williams in the last 32.
The Australian No 2 Daria Saville will take on Romania’s Elena-Gabriela Ruse in her opening match, while Jaimee Fourlis, also handed a wildcard, will play a qualifier yet to be decided.