Melbourne - Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will use the
Kooyong Classic starting on 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.