It was a mixed night for the local men on Thursday night, with Alex de Minaur equalling his best-ever Australian Open run, but Thanasi Kokkinakis going down in a five-set epic.
De Minaur won through to the third round with a 6-3 6-3 7-5 win over Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas 6-3 6-3 7-5 on Margaret Court Arena.
The 21st seed and top-ranked Australian in the mens’ draw will now play Italian Fabio Fognini for a place in the last 16.
With showers in the area, the roof was closed midway through the match, but it hardly mattered for de Minaur who offered perspective on the situation after the match.
“It got a little bit heavier out here but I just think the biggest thing is to adapt,” he said.
“That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned with the last year with COVID. You’ve got to be versatile; you’ve got to adapt and be ready for any situation.”
The fleet-footed 21-year-old set up the win with early breaks in the first two sets against the 35-year-old veteran.
The third was a little less straightforward.
At 3-4 de Minaur lost his way to leave Cuevas serving for the set.
But regular programming quickly resumed when he broke straight back, held and cracked Cuevas again to seal the match.
“Pablo’s a very skilled veteran player and I knew I had to be on top of my game to get through tonight,” de Minaur said.
“I’m very happy how I maintained my focus throughout the whole match and played some great quality tennis. Yet again, happy to be back.”
Earlier, Greek superstar Stefanos Tsitsipas lauded Kokkinakis’ fighting qualities after surviving a five-set, second-round match.
Long overdue a change of luck on the injury front, 24-year-old Kokkinakis looked right at home back on centre stage as he traded blows with the 2019 Open semi-finalist before bowing out 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-1 6-7 (5-7) 6-4.
The No.5 seeded Tsitsipas did not drop a service game in a marathon encounter which lasted four hours and 32 minutes – the longest match of the tournament to date.
Tsitsipas was simply relieved to move into the third round, but praised Kokkinakis’ talent and determination.
“Thanasi is a great competitor and a great fighter,” he said.
It was very difficult facing him. He’s a talent, he has huge potential – pretty sure he knows it himself. He just needs to take advantage of it and make the best out of his career.
“He’s a great server, has all the weapons from the baseline; despite the difficulty of the match, I really enjoyed being out here showing the world some really high-quality tennis.”
Kokkinakis was able to make the match go the distance by stepping up in the two tiebreaks.
He also saved a match point in the 10th game of the fourth set.
The performance was all the more impressive considering Kokkinakis has battled a plethora of serious injuries in recent years, which has seen his world ranking plummet to No.267.
He also missed the 2020 Open due to glandular fever and then chose not to travel overseas to play last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But when fit, the South Australian remains a formidable foe, as he proved when beating then-world No.1 Roger Federer three years ago at the Miami Open.
Kokkinakis’ talent was on show time and again on Thursday night in a match watched by his close friend and doubles partner Nick Kyrgios.
Despite pushing Tsitsipas to the limit in a gruelling hit-out, Kokkinakis still turned out with Kyrgios for their first-round doubles encounter less than an hour after his singles match ended.
Kokkinakis and Kyrgios were first dubbed the Special Ks in 2013 when they squared off in the Australian Open junior final and appeared to have the tennis world at their feet.
Before Thursday evening, the previous time Kokkinakis had played on Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open was in 2014 when he lost in straight sets to Rafael Nadal at the age of 17.
Tsitsipas will take on Mikael Ymer in the third round on Saturday after the Swede ousted Spanish teen sensation Carlos Alcaraz 2-6 6-4 6-4 7-6 (7-5).
Stosur smashed out of the Open
Samantha Stosur was brutally eliminated on Thursday night, going down 6-0 6-1 to American Jessica Pegula.
Stosur is also out of the doubles but is still to play the mixed event with Matthew Ebden.
In a match that lasted just 50 minutes, Pegula had far too many weapons for veteran Stosur who may have played her 19th and last Australian Open.
Having not played before the Australian summer since March 2020, and with a family in tow, the 36-year-old former US Open winner was reluctant to commit too much this year, particularly in the midst of a pandemic.
While she enjoyed her first opening-round win at Melbourne Park since 2015 this year the obvious gulf in class on Thursday will give her plenty to consider.
Pegula ripped through the first set in 27 minutes and the prospect of a double-bagel result loomed large.
But Stosur showed some nice touches in the second set and battled to win a service game as the 61-ranked Pegula continued to play at a high level.
Top women’s hope Ash Barty won her match earlier in the day, defeatingFed Cup teammate Daria Gavrilova 6-1 7-6 (7), booking her third-round ticket at the Australian Open for the fifth straight year.