Melbourne Park, 19 December 2010 | Tim Rose

Marinko Matosevic has secured his place in Australian Open 2011 with a five-set cliffhanger over top seed Peter Luczak in the final of the Australian Open Play-off at Melbourne Park.

In a see-sawing encounter that began in outdoors in mid afternoon and finished on the indoor courts at nearly 7:30 pm, it was Matosevic’s ability to hold serve when it really counted that won him the men’s wildcard after Olivia Rogowska had earlier won the women’s. Read more

AO Play-off highlights

AO Play-off photos

Heading into the final – the only best of five-sets match for the Play-off – very little could split the two Victorians. The top two seeds, the pair also sits side by side in the rankings, recently trading places as Australia’s second-ranked male.

The 25-year-old Matosevic’s superior form and energy throughout the week perhaps countered the difference in experience held by Luczak, a seven-time entrant into the Australian Open main draw.

Matosevic and Luczak took time to find their feet, trading breaks of serve in the opening two games. Matosevic attacked the Luczak serve with deep returns, consistently breaking serve in the opening set.

His forehand was able to set up and finish points with regular ease, as the veteran Luczak struggled to find any rhythm, unforced errors killing any chance of getting into the set.

A long forehand from Luczak gave Matosevic a lightning opening set, racing to a 6-1 lead in seemingly no time at all.

It took until the opening game of the second set for Luczak to hold serve for the first time, and eventually his forehand found its range as he broke Matosevic immediately to take a 2-0 lead. With clouds darkening and intermittent wind gusts making life difficult for players, a Matosevic double fault opened up another break as Luczak levelled the contest at one set all.

After just one point in the third set, the heavens opened and players headed for the locker rooms as the dark clouds that had delayed the women’s Play-off final again soaked Melbourne Park. The decision was made to continue the match on the nearby indoor courts, with play resuming at 5:00 pm after a hasty set-up for play.

With the elements now out of the equation, serving and ball striking became much cleaner, with the early exchanges after the restart punctuated by some entertaining rallies. Matosevic, as the bigger hitter of the two, suddenly found himself with the advantage in the longer points and broke serve to skip away to a 3-1 lead.

He held on and took a two-sets-to-one lead with an ace, a huge bomb out wide that left Luczak reaching for thin air.

The gutsy Luczak was far from finished though, stepping up a gear in the baseline rallies to gain a small advantage. Serving for the set, he faltered, but was able to again break serve to send the match into to decider.

Matosevic’s first serves began to miss their mark, and some deep returning allowed Luczak to open up what looked like a match-winning lead with a break early in the set. But typically, the momentum soon shifted again as a pumped up Matosevic peeled off winners off either side to break back to draw level and again to edge ahead.

With three match points against him, Luczak yet again pushed up a gear for the second day running after saving four match points in his semifinal win over Matt Ebden yesterday.

The younger Matosevic wasn’t to be denied though, scraping home to win the decider and a place in his second Grand Slam main draw 6-1 1-6 6-3 4-6 6-4.

The enigmatic Matosevic was relieved to finally come away with the win after the day’s drama.

“It was pretty crazy.”

“In the fourth [set] his energy just seemed to lift out of nowhere, then in the fifth I was down but managed to pull off five games in a row and just started to play aggressively,” he said.

After making his Grand Slam debut in the 2010 Australian Open, Matosevic said that he’d learned from the first-round loss where he held break points to potentially send the match to a fifth set against a tired and cramping Marco Chiudinelli.

“I’ll know how to play a best of five, I’ll know how to pace myself and not be as nervous.

“It was a learning experience but I definitely could have won that match,” he said, before looking ahead to what he hopes will be a breakout 2011.

“I’ve got no points to defend for the first couple of months so that’s the plan, to have a good Aussie summer and hopefully that’ll skyrocket me into the top 100.”