Thanasi Kokkinakis simply doesn't do straightforward matches at the Australian Open. Tuesday's epic first-round win over Austrian Sebastian Ofner was another edge-of-your-seat thriller, with Nick Kyrgios summing up the thoughts of most home fans with his response on social media.
A year after being bundled out of his home slam by five-time runner-up and three-time major winner Andy Murray - in what was the second-longest tennis match in Australian Open history - Kokkinakis was on the right side of the ledger this time in an absorbing 7-6 (7-1) 2-6 6-7 (4-7) 6-1 7-6 (10-8) win over Ofner. The 27-year-old's reward for victory is a blockbuster clash with 13th seed Grigor Dimitrov, who beat Marton Fucsovics earlier on Tuesday.
'DISRESPECTFUL': Storm erupts over John McEnroe commentary at Aus Open
The epic win for Kokkinakis helped exorcise the demons from his soul-destroying five hour and 45 minute defeat to Murray in last year's tournament. This time, with fans packed inside a raucous John Cain Arena, Kokkinakis rode the wave of home support to step up in the fifth set super tiebreaker and claim an extraordinary win in four hours and 18 minutes after coming back from a two-sets-to-one deficit down.
"Mate, I wish I could do it easier but I can't," Kokkinakis said in his on-court interview after the epic five-setter. "I've got the mental focus of a three-year-old. However I can get it done, you guys (the crowd) are amazing. Without you, no chance I'm winning."
Kokkinakis battled through a see-sawing match tiebreak to reach the second round for a fifth time and had to dig deep to stay in the contest after coming up with a clutch volley late in the tiebreak to keep pace with Ofner. The Aussie then fashioned himself two match points - one of which was saved by Ofner - booking his place in the second round when the Austrian hit the ball into the net off the Aussie's serve.
The noise inside the stadium was off the charts as those inside John Cain Arena stood up and erupted as one to celebrate the win for the local hope. Kokkinakis' good mate Kyrgios - who he won the doubles title alongside in 2022 - summed up the reaction of most Aurei tennis after after posting on social media: "F*** yes," moments after the epic victory.
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) January 16, 2024
— Trish #VamosRafa💪🏽 (@planettrish) January 16, 2024
that was an insane match! KOKKINAKIS WE LOVE YOU
— naya | aus open era (@hoonsbbokie) January 16, 2024
— Daniel (@5teelerfan) January 16, 2024
— JAKE FLAGPIES23 🏆🖤🤍 (@IncrediblyBozza) January 16, 2024
Thanasi Kokkinakis joins several Aussies in round two
The win saw Kokkinakis join a host of Aussies in the second round at Melbourne Park, including Max Purcell, Purcell, who also prevailed on Kia Arena before Kokkinaakis' match. Known as more of a doubles specialist, Purcell claimed his breakthrough first-round win in the singles main draw at the Australian Open with a 3-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 7-5 win over Hungarian qualifier Mate Valkusz.
Ajla Tomljanovic also flew the flag proudly for Australia in the night session, battling back from the brink of elimination to seal an incredible first-round comeback win over Petra Martic. One year after her tearful withdrawal from the 2023 Australian Open due to injury, the 30-year-old Aussie came back from a 4-1 deficit in the decisive third set to prevail 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 6-4.
Tomljanovic's prize for victory in the two-hour, 53-minute slogfest is a tantalising second-round clash with 11th seed Jelena Ostapenko. "I really was out at one point," Tomljanovic said at a sparsely packed John Cain Arena after midnight.
"I mean, I felt like she was kind of toying with me and I couldn't read her serve. But 4-1 down, double break, you guys (the crowd) never gave up even more than me. I was like 'if you're here, I should give it my best' ... I'm really grateful that you all stayed this late."
Tomljanovic's victory added to the healthy contingent of Aussies that have booked their spots in the second round of the grand slam. Joining Tomljanovic is joined in the women's draw by Storm Hunter, while World No.10 Alex De Minaur headlines the men's list which also includes Kokkinakis, Purcell, Alexei Popyrin, Jordan Thompson and Chris O'Connell - many of whom play on Wednesday.
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.