Rafter names teenagers for Davis Cup
Australian captain Pat Rafter has named teenage trio Nick Kyrgios, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Jordan Thompson in his Davis Cup team to face France in the World Group first round.
Australian captain Pat Rafter refuses to believe Lleyton Hewitt and a pair of teenage tyros can’t conjure up one of the great Davis Cup upsets against the formidable French.
Rafter on Tuesday named whiz kids Nick Kyrgios, 17, Thanasi Kokkinakis, 18, and Jordan Thompson, 19, alongside Hewitt and doubles specialist Chris Guccione as his team for the first-round indoor claycourt tie in La Roche-sur-Yon, western France starting on Friday week.
With Bernard Tomic out injured, Rafter said Kyrgios and Kokkinakis, who both reached the second round of the Australian Open, would likely be pitched into a one-on-one shootout next week for the No.2 singles spot behind Hewitt.
There are also whispers Rafter is considering using both the so-called Special Ks in the day-one singles and keeping Hewitt fresh for the doubles and the first reverse singles against French No.1 Richard Gasquet.
“Lleyton will definitely play doubles, 100 per cent,” Rafter said.
“We think that’s a pretty critical tie. Normally always is.”
Whichever way the skipper goes, Australia will be at long odds to topple the powerful line-up of Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon, Gael Monfils and Julien Benneteau.
“Now, they are a great team. On paper, we’re certainly losing,” Rafter said.
“But I think we have a realistic chance of an upset – but it will be an upset if we do win.
“We still believe we have a chance. These kids, they’re pretty exceptional in many ways. There is an element of blooding them into the team as well, no doubt about that, and give them that exposure.
“I think they’ll deal with it really well. I think they’re going to love the atmosphere and the occasion.
“You never know, Davis Cup has a tradition of throwing up some upsets. When you’ve got youth and energy on your side, you have passion; you always have a chance.”
While Rafter had little option but to turn to youth, French counterpart Arnaud Clement had an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, with France’s top eight players all ranked higher than Hewitt, the world No.43.
Like Rafter, though, Clement knows anything can happen in the Davis Cup cauldron.
“It is not about the rankings. It is Davis Cup. It is France versus Australia. It is Lleyton Hewitt, it is Pat Rafter and some very talented young players,” he told AAP.
“The last time we played it was in a final for the Davis Cup.”
That was back in 2001 in Melbourne when Hewitt and Rafter lost the pivotal doubles rubber before an elbow injury prevented Rafter from backing up to contest the decisive reverse singles match.
Instead, Wayne Arthurs was thrown into the hot seat and lost to Nicolas Escude and ended the final in tears.
The long-awaited return bout is Australia’s first back in the elite 16-nation World Group since 2007.