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Special Ks to do battle at the US Open

Thanasi Kokkinakis is bracing for the Nick Kyrgios 'circus' when the pair meet in the US Open.

Thanasi Kokkinakis is bracing for the Nick Kyrgios 'circus' when the pair meet in the US Open. Photo: Getty

Nick Kyrgios has been handed a heart-pulling first-round encounter at the US Open, drawn against his big-hitting pal 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.

Great friends 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. 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 outlandish run to the Wimbledon final and subsequent victory in Washington, has a minefield draw.

If he beats Kokkinakis on Monday (Tuesday AEST), he’ll likely play dangerous French leftie Ugo Humbert in the second round and battle-hardened 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 wouldn’t be coming to New York.

US rules wouldn’t allow the Serb, who’s still unvaccinated against COVID-19, to enter the country to bid for a fourth title, opening up a big opportunity for Nadal to race further ahead in their ‘GOAT’ race.

So Hijikata, the 21-year-old prospect from Sydney who’s been handed a wildcard as part of US tennis’s reciprocal arrangement with its Aussie 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.

There’s also 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, all eyes were on 40-year-old Serena Williams’ first opponent, at what is expected to be the last tournament of her career.

She’ll face Montenegro’s world No.80 Danka Kovinic, with a potential second-round encounter against No.2 seed Anett Kontaveit, of Estonia.

Defending champion Emma Raducanu, whose victory as a qualifier last year was dubbed the “fairytale of New York”, has a tough opener against renowned giant-killer Alize Cornet, who knocked out No.1 seed Iga Swiatek at Wimbledon.

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 Aussie 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.

Who Australians play in the US Open first round (prefix denotes seeding):

Men’s singles

18-Alex de Minaur v Filip Krajinovic (SRB)

23-Nick Kyrgios v Thanasi Kokkinakis

Jordan Thompson v Lorenzo Sonego (ITA)

John Millman v Emilio Nava (USA)

James Duckworth v Chris O’Connell

Jason Kubler v Mikael Ymer (SWE)

Alexei Popyrin v Chun-hsin Tseng (TWN)

Rinky Hijikata v 2-Rafael Nadal (ESP)

Women’s singles

Ajla Tomljanovic v Karolina Muchova (CZE)

Jaimee Fourlis v Qualifier

Daria Saville v Elena-Gabriela Ruse (ROM)

-AAP

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