Twelve months after Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis shocked the tennis world by winning the men’s doubles, another unlikely pairing has achieved the same incredible feat.
The legend of the Special Ks keeps growing.
Twelve months after Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis shocked the tennis world by winning the men’s doubles at the Australian Open, another, even more unlikely pairing has achieved the same feat.
Teaming up for the first time in any tournament, Jason Kubler and Rinky Hijikata are now grand slam champions after they beat Hugo Nys and Jan Zieliński 6-4 7-6 at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night.
It was only recently that they decided to play together, so they went into the tournament with no expectations.
Early on, they described themselves as ‘clueless’ but grew in confidence to go all the way.
“I definitely didn’t think this was happening two weeks ago, Kubler said.
“It’s definitely a pleasant surprise.
“I’ve got to thank Rinky. He’s the reason we teamed up. I wasn’t sure I was going to play. Two weeks later, we’re lifting this trophy.
“He’s only 21 and he’s got a great future ahead of him.”
For Kubler, 29, winning a grand slam title marked an extraordinary turnaround in his fortunes.
One of the most exciting young talents Australia has produced, Kubler was a junior world number one with the world at his feet, when his body fell to pieces.
By his own count, he’s had six operations on his knee – five on the left and one on the right – and spent more time watching tennis than playing it.
But he’s never lost faith nor given up, though he was tempted a few years ago when he only had 14 cents left in his bank account.
He wanted to rediscover the fun in tennis but also needed some cash, so he began some coaching, mostly kids whose parents would pay him to practice with their children.
Then he got a call to play the 2018 Australian Open, his first grand slam appearance in eight years, so gave it another go.
He gave a glimpse of what he’s capable of when he came through the qualifiers to make the final 16 at Wimbledon last year but didn’t get the ranking points he deserved because no points were awarded after Russian players were banned by the All-England club.
Earlier this month, his luck took another turn for the better.
The first reserve for the Australian team at the United Cup, Kubler was called in to replace Kyrgios at the last minute and responded by winning both his singles matches – against Britain’s Dan Evans then Spain’s Albert Ramos Vinolas.
Kubler’s singles wins, both against higher ranked opponents, lifted him to 84th in the world, his highest ranking ever to get an automatic place in the Australian Open.
He made the second round only to be beaten by eventual semi-finalist Karen Khachanov so turned his full attention to the doubles.
Hijikata, who has Japanese heritage, got a taste of the spotlight when he took a set off Rafael Nadal at last year’s US Open.
He also made it to the second round in singles at the Australian Open but ran into Stefanos Tsitsipas, who will play Novak Dokovic in Sunday’s final.
“It’s been an absolute rollercoaster,” Hijikata said.
“Thank you to Kubes for playing with me.
“I couldn’t ever have imagined this, but thanks so much for saying yes to playing with me a couple of months ago.”
Originally published as Jason Kubler and Rinky Hijikata win the men’s doubles at the Australian Open