Aussie young guns face grand slam giants

Generation Next has officially arrived, with Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios the last two Australians standing in the French Open men’s singles.

The so-called Special Ks are gearing up for showcourt shootouts on Saturday with grand slam giants Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray after securing vastly-different entries to the last 32 for the first time at Roland Garros.

Kokkinakis overcame injury, a two-set deficit and three match points to oust seeded countryman Bernard Tomic and set up his third-round tussle with Djokovic, while Kyrgios will take on Murray feeling fresh as a daisy from a walkover against injured Brit Kyle Edmund.

Kyrgios and Kokkinakis have been earmarked for superstardom ever since clashing in the 2013 Australian Open junior final and also teaming to win the boys’ doubles at Melbourne Park that year.

A year older, Kyrgios, won that junior encounter before announcing his arrival as a grand slam force with his fourth-round victory over Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon 10 months ago.

Many smart judges, including John Newcombe, are predicting just as bright a future for Kokkinakis and the teenager provided another glimpse of his gumption on Thursday with a tenacious fightback against Tomic.

Kokkinakis’s triumph from two sets to love down against the Australian No.1 followed five-set victories this year over world No.11 Ernests Gulbis at the Australian Open and Czech Lukas Rosol in Davis Cup.

Now the youngster faces the ultimate test against Djokovic, whose 6-1 6-4 6-4 second-round salute against Gilles Muller was the Serb’s 24th straight win in an utterly dominant 2015 that has already yielded a record fifth Australian Open crown and Masters 1000 titles in Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome.

“He’s barely lost this year so it’s going to be a tough task for sure,” Kokkinakis said.

“He barely misses a ball, mentally tough, lightning quick on court. The list goes on.

“He just does everything so well and so professional. That’s why he’s had such great success. Everything he does is pretty top notch, and that’s why he is world No 1.

“But I’m not going to change my game plan. I’m going to try and do what I do well and hopefully it works against him. We’ll see.”

After opening 2014 as the world No.628, Kokkinakis – who only turned 19 last month – is projected to rise to at least 68th in the rankings after Roland Garros.

Kyrgios said it’d be foolish to dismiss the precocious talent’s chances against the top seed.

“Thanna has shown that a couple of times this year. He has been down match points and he has been tough to put away. It is a great effort again,” he said.

“That is why you play the game. You play the game to play on Philippe Chartrier against Djokovic.

“That is definitely the biggest match of his career so far. He played Nadal on centre court at the Australian Open a couple of years ago. He has played on the biggest stage.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he almost challenges Djokovic. I wouldn’t be surprised at all. He has a lot of confidence in himself.”

Kyrgios, too, believes in himself.

Already a two-time grand slam quarter-finalist, the 29th seed is quietly confident of reversing his last-eight loss to Murray on Melbourne Park’s hard courts in January.

“I was physically struggling at the Australian Open,” Kyrgios said.

“My back wasn’t very good. I am feeling a lot more fitter and stronger this time around.”

AUSTRALIAN AGAINST THE WORLD

HOW THEY LINE UP FOR SATURDAY’S FRENCH OPEN THIRD-ROUND BLOCKBUSTERS IN PARIS (PREFIX DENOTES SEEDING):

1-NOVAK DJOKOVIC (SRB) v THANASI KOKKINAKIS (AUS) – first meeting

DJOKOVIC

Age: 28

Ranking: 1

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US78,397,032 ($A101.46 million)

Career titles: 53

Grand slam titles: 8 (Australian Open 2008, 2011-2013, 2015; Wimbledon 2011, 2014; US Open 2011)

French Open win-loss record: 44-10

Best French Open performances: finalist 2012, 2014

KOKKINAKIS

Age: 19

Ranking: 84

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US377,803 ($A488,939)

Career titles: 0

Grand slam titles: 0

French Open win-loss record: 2-0

Best French Open performance: 3rd round 2015

3-ANDY MURRAY (SCO) leads 29-NICK KYRGIOS (AUS) 2-0

2015 Australian Open, hard, QF, Murray 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 6-3

2014 Toronto Masters, hard, R32, Murray 6-2 6-2

MURRAY

Age: 28

Ranking: 3

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US37,257,669 ($A48.22 million)

Career titles: 33

Grand slam titles: 2 (US Open 2012; Wimbledon 2013)

French Open win-loss record: 25-7

Best French Open performances: semi-finalist 2011, 2014

KYRGIOS

Age: 20

Ranking: 30

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US1,196,413 ($A1.55 million)

Career titles: 0

Grand slam titles: 0

French Open win-loss record: 3-2

Best French Open performance: 3rd round 2013

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