Jason Kubler and Rinky Hijikata have continued their fairytale run at the Australian Open after a stunning straight-sets win in their men's doubles semi-final on Thursday. The Aussie tag-team already knocked off the top-seeded pairing of Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski in the quarter-finals and added another major scalp in a superb upset win in the last-four.
They may not have generated the same sort of buzz as compatriots Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis did on their way to the Australian Open doubles title last year, but Kubler and Hijikata have a golden chance to emulate the 'Special Ks' after beating eighth-seeded pair Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos 6-4, 6-2. Remarkably, the local duo are the fifth all-Aussie pairing to play in the men's doubles semi-finals in the last seven years.
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The Aussie duo lost the first game of the match as their eight-seeded opponents held serve on Rod Laver Arena. Hijikata soon brought about the first big roar from the home crowd after a crafty forehand winner that just caught the line deep in their opponent's end.
A couple of sloppy points from the local hopes presented the first big opportunity for Granollers and Zeballos as they set up a break point chance. Having saved that, the Aussie pair brought the crowd to its feet after holding to level it at 1-1.
Granollers and Zeballos took the next game before the Aussies were left to wait as the latter went off to receive medical treatment in an early scare. Nine commentator Todd Woodbridge suggested on the coverage that it was a possible groin or leg injury for the Argentine.
Zeballos received his three minutes of medical treatment before coming back onto court. The Argentine gave a little wave to suggest that he was OK after the brief interruption.
The Aussie pair had viewers beside themselves after a crazy point at 2-1 down, when Kubler chased down a defensive effort from their opponents that bounced wickedly back in the direction it was hit from. By the time he got to the ball to return the smash, Kubler was almost standing on the other side of the court.
"I've never seen that before in all my years," Woodbridge said in commentary. "And then Zeballos almost made the winner as well, that's why it's so entertaining the doubles."
Nothing could separate the four combatants as the semi-final went on serve in the early exchanges, with Kubler faultless off his own racquet in the sixth game. A sizzling return from Hijikata saw the Aussies claim the first break of the match as the roars rang out around Rod Laver Arena.
When Hijikata held serve next game, the Aussies were on the cusp of claiming the first set at 5-3 up. The Aussies let two set point chances go begging as their opponents fought off breaks, before holding serve. However, it was the Aussies that grabbed the breakthrough on serve after claiming a tense 10th game to seal the set, 6-4.
Kubler and Hijikata kept the momentum going to claim an early break in the second stanza as they jumped away to a 3-1 lead. A perfect service game for the Australians made it 4-2 after Granollers and Zeballos held serve, leaving the locals edging ever closer to a spot in the final against Hugo Nys and Jan Zielinksi, who beat Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 in the first semi-final.
Tennis fans go nuts for Aussie doubles stars
When the Aussies clinched a double break in the next game, the stadium erupted as one as Kubler and Hijikata sensed their moment. One match point opportunity came and went but they made no mistake on the second time of asking to clinch the straight-sets win and a place in the final.
On their way to the last-four, Kubler and Hijikata have eliminated five top-20 players and two seeded teams, including the best pairing from 2022. The Aussie wildcards have also saved one match point in their march to the final.
The Aussies had never played together before this tournament, making their run to the tournament decider that much more intriguing. While they are not renowned for whipping crowds into a frenzy like the 'Special Ks' did on their way to last year's doubles title, Kubler and Hijikata still enjoyed a raucous crowd inside Rod Laver Arena that will hopefully spur them on to a fairytale title.
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