Aussie favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis has quelled his marathon demons from last year to come from behind and defeat Sebastian Ofner in a gruelling four-hour thriller at the Australian Open. The Aussie had a raucous tennis crowd behind him on the popular John Cain Arena as he battled back after trailing in sets 2-1 to force a fifth-set super tiebreak.
Nerves were at an all-time high as the super tiebreak was locked at 7-7 when the Aussie used his doubles experience to hit a drop volley to send the crowd into raptures. The job wasn't done as Kokkinakis returned Ofner's serve deep to watch the Austrian hit a return into the net.
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After four hours and 17 minutes Kokkinakis had earned two-match points. Although he he hit a forehand long on the next point as Ofner saved the first one to silence the crowd. But the Aussie was able to serve out the super tiebreak and stand tall under the pressure to put the disappointment of last year's loss behind him.
"That five-setter will always feel sweet but when you factor in the disappointment from losing last year, having led 2-0 against Andy Murray, that's gotta feel even sweeter," Jim Courier said moments after the victory. Kokkinakis lost to Murray last year at 4am in the morning having let a lead slip in devastating fashion.
Kokkinakis said he was battling himself during the five-set marathon, but admitted he is always able to get up for the Australian Open grand slam because of the crowd. "Battling serious demons, that's for sure," Kokkinakis said of the mental battle.
"No, it was an incredible. Sometimes I struggle for motivation during the year, but January and the Aussie Open definitely isn't one of those times." Aussie supporters were left stunned at Kokkinakis determination to emerge as a winner, which marks the first time since 2015 he has won a five-setter in front of his home fans.
— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) January 16, 2024
— Trish #VamosRafa💪🏽 (@planettrish) January 16, 2024
Thanasi Kokkinakis finally celebrating a 5-set win in front of his own fans at the Australian Open.
9 years since the last time it has happened: in 2015 versus Gulbis.
Great energy, great win.
— Relevant Tennis (@RelevantTennis) January 16, 2024
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) January 16, 2024
WHAT A WIN THAT IS FOR THANASI KOKKINAKIS! An epic five set win & his emotion afterwards said it all. Grigor Dimitrov in the next round is going to be a fun match. What a high level Australian Open it has been so far.#AusOpen
— Adam (@AdamJoseph____) January 16, 2024
Epic win Kokkinakis in yet another epic five-setter. SA great! #AusOpen
— Rob Greenwood (@robgreenwood1) January 16, 2024
The on court post match interviews are fabulous.
Kokkinakis being totally himself and open. Love it. #AusOpen
— Belinda Noonan (@BelindaNoonan1) January 16, 2024
If Kokkinakis had the Aussie crowd with him all year i swear he’d be top 20😂. They love themselves some Thanasi lol. Ofner is playing incredibly well though!
— US Tennis Center (@USTennisCenter) January 16, 2024
THANASI KOKKINAKIS!!! What a win. No one deserves their moment more than him after the nightmares of last year. As lion hearted win as you’ll see ! #AusOpen
— Luke (@Marruso89) January 16, 2024
His victory will see him take on Grigor Dimitrov in the second round. The Bulgarian has been in fantastic form heading into the Australian Open, but Kokkinakis admitted the crowd could be the factor to help him get over the line.
"I'll recover. Chill out. Grigor is a hell of a player, been doing this for a while and he is in some great form right now, Kokkinakis said. "I back myself. I hopefully can have your support, the crowd is unbelievable. I've beaten high-ranked players before, I've lost to lower-ranked players. It is about coming out on the day and playing my best tennis, hopefully I can do that."
Max Purcell joins Aussies in the second round
And Aussie Max Purcell was also able to secure his position in the next round after a stellar victory over Mate Valkusz. Purcell was ranked 169 rankings spots ahead of Valkusz, but he was made to work for his victory struggling for much of the first two sets to find his rhythm.
He then blew six match points before finally prevailing after two hours and 52 sweat-soaked minutes. "I was kind of just like 'turn it up', to be honest. The guy was pummelling me," Purcell said in his post-match interview.
"I didn't really stand much of a chance there, snuck my way back in the second set. Just tried to hold onto my serve and then hope he'd crack and he cracked and I got through it. I definitely needed you guys' support deep in the fourth. I was gagging it so hard." He will face No.11 seed Casper Ruud for a place in the last 32 of the grand slam.
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