Australian Open: Tsitsipas holds off Kokkinakis to win Greek epic

Fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas earned a hard-fought 6-7(5) 6-4 6-1 6-7(5) 6-4 victory over local wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round.

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece celebrates after winning his Men's Singles second round match against Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia during day four of the 2021 Australian Open.   -  GETTY IMAGES

A Greek tragedy threatened to befall Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Australian Open on Thursday before the fifth seed steadied to fend off local wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-7(5) 6-4 6-1 6-7(5) 6-4 and reach the third round.

The day after Nick Kyrgios sent John Cain Arena into delirium with a thrilling comeback, 267th-ranked Greek-Australian Kokkinakis appeared set for the boilover of the tournament when he threaded a backhand down the line to send the match into a fifth set.

It was not to be, though, as Tsitsipas captured the decisive break in the fifth game and held on grimly to close out a four-hour 32-minute epic in the steamy twilight at Rod Laver Arena.

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The only player from Greece to reach a Grand Slam semi-final, Tsitsipas paid tribute to his friend Kokkinakis, who celebrated his first Australian Open win in six years on Tuesday after battling injuries and illness.

"Thanasi is a great competitor and a great fighter. As you saw it was very difficult facing him today," the 22-year-old said on court.

"I just want to go for a nice bath right now, that's all I'm thinking."

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Tsitsipas set Melbourne's huge Greek community alight two years ago when he shocked Roger Federer on the way to the semi-finals at the Grand Slam.

There was little love for him from the Rod Laver Arena crowd on Thursday, however, with fans firmly behind Adelaide-born Kokkinakis, the son of Greek immigrants.

With no apparent sponsorship from apparel giants, Kokkinakis caused a stir when he wore a black, A$6 ($4.65) Kmart T-shirt from a local shopping mall in his first round match.

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Against Tsitsipas, he wore a crisp white T-shirt but had a small logo stitched onto the sleeves, having picked up an endorsement deal from a workplace safety firm.

The company got its money's worth as Kokkinakis took the first set, with Tsitsipas serving up a double-fault on set point.

Tsitsipas knuckled down in the next two sets and was cruising to victory with a break in the fourth before Kokkinakis rallied and closed out a thrilling tiebreak with an exquisite backhand passing shot.

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In the end, Tsitsipas survived to set up a third round clash with Swede Mikael Ymer.

"Despite the difficulty of the match today I really enjoyed being out here and competing and showing the world a really high quality of tennis," said Tsitsipas, who never dropped serve against the Australian.

Kokkinakis and his cheap T-shirt left the court to a huge ovation, and the hope of bigger things to come

Lopez puts age to the test

Feliciano Lopez is only second to Roger Federer when it comes to longevity on the Grand Slam circuit and the Spanish veteran, at the age of 39, proved on Thursday he still has plenty of gas in the tank to win a brutal five-set contest.

Lopez rallied from two sets down to beat Italy's Lorenzo Sonego 5-7 3-6 6-3 7-5 6-4 and book a place in the Australian Open third round for the first time since 2016.

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Feliciano Lopez is playing a record-extending 75th consecutive Grand Slam event, having not missed any since the French Open in 2002.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

When asked how highly he rates his latest five-set rescue job, an "exhausted" Lopez said: "Well maybe pole position.

"As you know, to win a match in a Slam for me now is very special. If I do it the way I did today, even more."

World No. 65 Lopez is playing a record-extending 75th consecutive Grand Slam event, having not missed any since the French Open in 2002.

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Only Federer, who has skipped this year's Australian Open due to an injury, has played more Slams overall, with 79 compared to Lopez's tally of 76.

Lopez will next face in-form Russian Andrey Rublev, seeded at seven, for a place in the last 16.

Alcaraz out in second round

Carlos Alcaraz's maiden Grand Slam ended in the second round but his loss to Swede Mikael Ymer did nothing to dampen the excitement surrounding the Spanish teenage talent.

The 17-year-old has drawn the inevitable comparisons with compatriot Rafa Nadal, who emerged at a similarly precocious age, and the 20-times Grand Slam champion was among those ready to talk up his potential this week.

"He has intensity. He has the passion. He has the shots, and he's always the same in my opinion," Nadal said after training with Alcaraz in Melbourne.

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