‘I’ll just back myself’: Aussie dubbed ‘right-handed Rafa’ sets sights on Nadal in Brisbane International showdown
Being branded “a right-handed Rafa” was once a compliment to Jason Kubler. Then it became a burden.
Now it’s a just a laugh as Kubler prepares to square off with the great Rafael Nadal in a dream centre-court showdown in front of family and home fans at the Brisbane International on Thursday night.
A one-time world No.1 junior and supreme clay-courter, Kubler being likened to Nadal early in his career was understandable if not quite believable.
But after being robbed of maybe his best years by chronic knee injuries, Kubler is happy enough just being back on court, let alone sharing one with a 22-time grand slam winner.
Little wonder why the 30-year-old was almost embarrassed when reminded by AAP of the comparisons after setting up his second-round shot with Nadal.
“The amount of messages I got – not that I got that many – but at least six messages I got were saying ‘It’s the right-handed Rafa versus the left-handed Rafa’,” Kubler said on Wednesday.
“It was pretty funny, but I don’t think it’s a correct comparison right now.
“If I could be the right-handed Rafa, that would be cool. What he’s done in the sport, the mentality, the physicality he has on court still as he’s getting older as well, it’s incredible.
“So I’ll leave that to the past. I don’t think that’s a thing anymore.”
After being limited to four grand-slam main-draw appearances between 2010 and 2022, Kubler has enjoyed a heady past 18 months.
He was the last Australian man standing at the 2022 French Open, made the last 16 at Wimbledon, and won last year’s Australian Open doubles as a wildcard entrant with countryman Rinky Hijikata.
But he admits taking on Nadal may top the lot.
“Now that Roger (Federer) has retired, Rafa and Novak (Djokovic) would have to be the biggest names you could play right now on the centre court,” said the Brisbane native.
“So it’s definitely going to be one of the biggest occasions of my career, that’s for sure.
“After training here for so long, I’ve always wanted to play on the centre court.”
But the ever-respectful baseliner isn’t making any bold predictions.
“It’s going to be tough, even if I do play well,” Kubler said.
“He’s obviously one of the best players ever. I don’t think a lot of players know how to beat him.
“But if I’m to give myself the best chance, I’ve got to back myself, go for my shots, probably really look to to win.
“If I’m waiting for him to make a mistake, it is probably not the correct way to play.
“I don’t think I have anything to lose. It’s not like I’m the favourite or even 50-50.
“So I’ll just back myself. If I’m in the big moments, trust all the work I’ve done, all the preparations and just trust that it’s enough.”
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Kubler will likely never get a better chance to topple Nadal, who conceded after his first-round win over Dominic Thiem that he wasn’t sure how he would back up from his first match in almost a year.
“I don’t forget how to play tennis,” Nadal said after being out since last year’s Australian Open with a hip injury.
“The only thing that’s going to be difficult is to make it in a professional match and in a very high level of tennis because you need to recover the confidence and the movements, that takes time.”