Special Ks lead Australia’s French charge

Gen-Y stars Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis are hoping to lead the changing of the guard as Australia boasts its largest French Open singles contingent this century.

Olivia Rogowska’s final-round qualifying win over Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia on Friday swelled Australia’s numbers in the main draw to an even dozen.

In Kyrgios, Bernard Tomic and rejuvenated spearhead Samantha Stosur, Australia also has three seeds at Roland Garros for the first time since the legendary Lew Hoad was among five back in 1970.

Despite the strong collective presence, a champion is still unlikely but Australia nevertheless hasn’t had 12 challengers since 1999, a generation ago when Pat Rafter was the men’s third seed and sent a young wildcard named Roger Federer packing in the first round.

Lleyton Hewitt also made his debut that year before helping Australia claim back the Davis Cup trophy for the first time in more than a decade.

But with Hewitt missing as he focuses on one final run at Wimbledon and 31-year-old Stosur also in the twilight of her grand slam-winning career, Kyrgios, Kokkinakis, Tomic and Russian-born diva Daria Gavrilova are out to forge a new golden age for Australian tennis.

In January, Kyrgios became the first teenager since Federer to reach two grand slam quarter-finals.

Kokkinakis, a year younger and a two-times grand slam junior finalist, has made a head-turning transition to the senior rankings, surging to a career-high 83rd on the eve of his Roland Garros debut after winning his maiden claycourt Challenger event in Bordeaux.

Spurred on by the two Special Ks, Tomic has regained a grand slam seeding for the first time in four years, while 21-year-old Gavrilova’s spectacular wins over French Open champions Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic this month have placed the world’s best women’s players on notice that a new star is rising.

After helping pilot Australia into the Davis Cup quarter-finals and taking down 2014 French Open semi-finalist Ernests Gulbis at the Australian Open, Kokkinakis is confident of causing more damage in Paris to do his country proud.

“Tennis Australia have obviously shown great confidence in us younger boys, obviously giving me the gig to play Davis Cup,” the 19-year-old said.

“So they definitely believe in us, there’s no doubt there, and hopefully we can continue to play some good tennis and represent Australia.”

Kokkinakis has already won over dual grand slam winner Andy Murray, with the two forging a friendship and regularly hitting together, including on Roland Garros’ centre court this week.

“I like him as a person first,” Murray said. “He just seems like he enjoys the game.

“So for me to train with him is good because he works hard and is good fun and he’s very good at tennis.

“So it’s a tough practice for me. He has a big forehand. For a big guy, he moves well.

“Every time I practice with him, he’s better than the time before. He’s always improving.

“Yeah, I hope he does well because I like him and I’m sure he will have a good career.”

No Australians play on the opening day, with Stosur and her five-strong support cast of Gavrilova, Casey Dellacqua, Ajla Tomljanovic, Jarmila Gajdosova and Rogowska all in the same quarter of the women’s draw and launching their campaigns on Monday.

Sam Groth and Marinko Matosevic also play Monday, while Kyrgios, Kokkinakis, Tomic and James Duckworth open their championship tilts on Tuesday.


Women’s singles, first round

26-Samantha Stosur v Madison Brengle (USA)

Casey Dellacqua v Ajla Tomljanovic

Daria Gavrilova v Johanna Larsson (SWE)

Jarmila Gajdosova v Amandine Hesse (FRA)

Olivia Rogowska v Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK)

Men’s singles

27-Bernard Tomic v qualifier

30-Nick Kyrgios v Denis Istomin (UZB)

Sam Groth v 21-Pablo Cuevas (URU)

Thanasi Kokkinakis v qualifier

James Duckworth v qualifier

Marinko Matosevic v Thomaz Bellucci (BRA)

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