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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.