They still can’t land on a nickname, but Australia’s newest men’s doubles pairing is one match away from keeping the Australian Open title in local hands.
Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler have been “winging it” through the doubles draw and on Thursday stormed into the final after smoking the far more experienced combination of Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos.
A day after upsetting top seeds Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski, the duo – both wildcards knocked out in the second round of the singles – defeated the eighth seeds from Spain and Argentina 6-4, 6-2.
“Who would have thought?” Kubler said. “We both returned unbelievable. If any watched the match yesterday they saw Rinky lacing them, I was happy to do my part today.”
Granollers and Zeballos are the same pair Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis defeated in last year’s semi-final before going on to win the doubles title. Just like the “Special Ks”, Hijikata and Kubler fed off their own infectious energy to put on a complete performance to the delight of the Rod Laver Arena crowd.
And much like the Special Ks, they are playing doubles on the fly. Asked which of them takes the tactical lead, Hijikata said: “I don’t even know at this point. I think we just see the ball, hit the ball.”
Kubler, the 29-year-old from Brisbane, continued: “It’s funny because at some stages we’re just yelling at each other. I don’t know what he’s saying, he doesn’t know what I’m saying – we’re just yelling. There’s heaps of energy and we both play better when there’s more energy.”
They have set up a final against France’s Hugo Nys and Poland’s Jan Zieliński, to be played on Sunday. Each will spend Saturday recovering in their own unique way.
“He’ll be snacking on some lollies and Pepsi,” said Rijikata, the Sydneysider eight years his partner’s junior. “And I’ll probably sleep for most of the day tomorrow.”
The match got off to a fitful start, with Zeballos taking an early medical timeout to receive treatment for a groin issue. He returned in time for a wild point which had even the chair umpire chuckling, as Kubler smashed a winner from the other side of the net.
The ball had popped into the air off Granollers’ frame and landed on the outside tramline before flying off at such an angle that, by the time Kubler had leapfrogged a ball kid to track it down, he had crossed the threshold. Given the ball had bounced on the correct side of the court, it was allowed.
Granollers was imposing at the net and forced the Australians to utilise the lob, but they hustled and got their first-set break to take a 4-3 lead off the back of a ripper Hijikata return. Hijikata rode the momentum on serve, setting up Kubler well at the net to consolidate the lead before serving out the set two games later.
The Australians fashioned an early break in the second and then, growing further in confidence, a double break to lead 5-2. On Kubler’s serve they converted their second match point.
With the final date sorted, they are now asking the public to find them a nickname as catchy as the Special Ks.
“We seem to have bad names for a nickname,” Kubler said. “We think of it and then there’s nothing – nothing that sounds that good. Hopefully someone can come up with something but if not, Jason and Rinky should be fine.”