Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a return during his men’s third round singles match against Fabio Fognini of Italy at the Shanghai Masters tennis tournament in Shanghai on October 12, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS ASFOURI
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will use the Kooyong Classic starting Tuesday as a convenient emergency stop to gain much-needed match practice as the pair return from injury in time for the Australian Open.
Not since the glory days of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras nearly two decades ago and more recently Roger Federer, has the long-time exhibition event hosted as distinguished a field.
The upcoming edition will feature five of the world’s top 10, including ATP Finals runner-up and two-time Kooyong champion David Goffin, Austrian Dominic Thiem, Croat Marin Cilic and Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.
Under the ad-hoc rules, late additions Nadal and Djokovic will be playing practice matches.
World number one Nadal, who missed the warm-up Brisbane International last week with a knee injury, is set for just one appearance on Tuesday when he faces France’s Richard Gasquet.
Djokovic, who hasn’t played competitively since a right elbow problem forced him to quit Wimbledon in the quarter-finals in July, is due on court on Wednesday to play Thiem.
“The addition of both Novak and Rafa changes our schedule and the way we will run the four days but that’s what Kooyong is all about, we are here to help the players get ready for the Open,” said tournament director Peter Johnston.
The women’s draw, now into a second season after being introduced in 2017, includes new Hopman Cup champion Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, German Andrea Petkovic, Aussie teen Destanee Aiava and young Chinese star Wang Xinyu.
Pat Cash, the 1987 Australian Open winner who now coaches American CoCo Vandeweghe, serves as official ambassador for the event and said it would be good preparation for Djokovic and Nadal.
“Everyone will be watching Rafa’s legs and Novak’s arm,” he said.
“It can make for a very exciting week of tennis. Both guys had good preparation, they just suffered setbacks. But when those come within a couple of weeks from the Australian Open, it’s a bit of a worry.
“They have to be absolutely ready, players can be quite anxious about it all.”
The first day of play features four matches, with Nadal against Gasquet, Goffin facing Carreno Busta and wayward Australian Bernard Tomic taking on Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.
Among the women, young Australian Aiava plays Petkovic.