Australia’s world no. 267 Thanasi Kokkinakis showed against the world no. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas that he deserves to be on the big stage.
The Australian had won his first match at the Australian Open since 2015 after his round one victory.
He then found himself out on Rod Laver Arena against the no. 5 seed, a past Australian Open semifinalist.
Kokkinakis was matching it with his Greek opponent. After both players were not able to convert break points they were contesting a tiebreaker.
It was the Australian that edged ahead after serving an Ace to bring up set point and then hitting a winner to claim the set.
The next two sets saw Tsitsipas dominate play.
The Greek player, a very popular player in Melbourne, broke Kokkinakis in the third game of the second set. That one break was enough to take the set 6-4.
In the third sets the no. 5 seed broke in the opening game before holding to lead 2-0. The Australian held the third game before Tsitisipas won the next four to wrap up the set.
In the fourth set both players held serve to take it to a tiebreaker.
Tsitsipas served a double fault to fall behind by a minibreak. He dropped another point after a backhand forced error.
Kokkinakis was forced into an error before back-to-back errors from his opponent, and then a winner from the Australian saw the score move to 5-1.
Tsitsipas was able to make a comeback to get to 5-5 before a forced error from the Greek player and then this was followed by a stunning backhand winner from Kokkinakis to claim the set.
Kokkinakis was feeling the strain of a match that lasted 4 hours and 32 minutes. Each point was an effort.
The Australian had to fight off two break points in his opening service game in the fifth set. An error from Tsitsipas saved the first and then an Ace took care of the second.
Kokkinakis would hold, only to see Tsitsipas easily hold his service game to return the pressure to the Australian’s serve.
A marathon 12 minute 28 second game would follow. The Australian would again face break points but four Aces in the game helped Kokkinakis hold. It did however further drain the energy reserves that were almost on empty.
Another quick service hold for Tsitsipas and Kokkinakis was again serving. A sudden rash of unforced errors saw his serve broken and it appeared that his match was over.
The Australian would have to do what he had not managed all match, he would need a break of serve against the Greek.
It would not happen. Throughout the match Kokkinakis earned just three break point opportunities. Tsitsipas broke 5 times from 22 opportunities.
Tsitsipas held his nerve and held his remaining service games to seal a 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-4 victory against the 24-year-old Australian.
“I fought like a lion,” Tsitsipas said. “I fought like a real warrior out there, and it was an amazing ending with lots of emotion and great spirits.”
Kokkinakis proved he can challenge the world’s best – sending down 23 aces and hitting 58 winners in the five-set thriller. Tsitsipas hit 78 winners and had just 46 unforced errors.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get over the line. But I’m not too far off, which is good,” Kokkinakis noted.
“There was a few times where the crowd erupted and I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face, having that energy. I have missed it after so many years,” he related of the experience of playing at Rod Laver Arena for the first time in seven years.
Kokkinakis expects the happy memories created this week will also provide further inspiration into the 2021 season.
“I look on the moments where I’ve had success and the feelings I got from being on court and having good wins, (and) I use that to fuel me,” he explained after his first-round win.
“Even if I’m just struggling at certain moments, I hang on to those moments to kind of push me through and just give it a crack.”
Having followed Thanasi’s career we look forward to seeing him again climb into the top-100 and claim many more Grand Slam match wins.
“Hopefully I can play a lot of matches and build that ranking up to where I think it should be,” Kokkinakis said of his 2021 goals.
Kokkinakis is teaming up with Nick Kyrgios in the men’s doubles. They were due to play in a night session on Thursday night. Rain saw that match rescheduled for Saturday.