Melbourne, Australia, 11 February 2021 | Leigh Rogers

When Thanasi Kokkinakis claimed the opening set against fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas at Rod Laver Arena this afternoon, it looked like his Australian Open 2021 comeback story might continue in sensational fashion.

For a while, the script was not going quite to plan. But a fairy-tale win looked possible again when the Australian saved a match point at 4-5 in the fourth set, then managed to extend the match to a deciding set.

But it was not to be, with Tsitsipas fighting back to post a 6-7(5) 6-4 6-1 6-7(5) 6-4 victory against the 24-year-old Australian.

“I fought like a lion,” Tsitsipas said. “I fought like a real warrior out there, and it was an amazing ending with lots of emotion and great spirits.”

A gallant Kokkinakis proved he can challenge the world’s best – firing 23 aces and 58 winners in the five-set thriller.

The margins between their levels were minute, with Kokkinakis producing outstanding tennis in only his third tour-level match since September 2019. It was also his first match against a top 10-ranked opponent in almost three years and first five-set match since the US Open in 2017.

“Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get over the line. But I’m not too far off, which is good,” Kokkinakis noted.

The form shown, and the way he managed to battle for four hours and 32 minutes, bodes well for Kokkinakis as he attempts to reignite his career after a challenging run with injuries and setbacks.

> FEATURE: Kokkinakis already a winner in emotional return

Currently ranked No.267, Kokkinakis is projected to improve more than 30 spots after his Australian Open performance.

More importantly, he has overcome huge mental barriers in winning his first Australian Open main draw match in six years and proving he can still compete at Grand Slam level.

“There was a few times where the crowd erupted and I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face, having that energy. I have missed it after so many years,” he related of the experience of playing at Rod Laver Arena for the first time in seven years.

Kokkinakis expects the happy memories created this week will also provide further inspiration into the 2021 season.

“I look on the moments where I’ve had success and the feelings I got from being on court and having good wins, (and) I use that to fuel me,” he explained after his first-round win.

“Even if I’m just struggling at certain moments, I hang on to those moments to kind of push me through and just give it a crack.”

With that attitude and new special moments to treasure, the eagerly-awaited next chapter in Kokkinakis’ comeback story might not be far away at all.

“Hopefully I can play a lot of matches and build that ranking up to where I think it should be,” Kokkinakis said of his 2021 goals.


Aussies in action – day four results

Men’s singles, second round
[21] Alex de Minaur (AUS) d Pablo Cuevas (URU) 6-3 6-3 7-5
[5] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) d [WC] Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) 6-7(5) 6-4 6-1 6-7(5) 6-4
Lloyd Harris (RSA) d [WC] Alexei Popyrin (AUS) 6-2 1-6 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3
Radu Albot (MDA) d [WC] Christopher O’Connell (AUS) 6-2 7-5 7-6(8)

Women’s singles, second round
[1] Ash Barty (AUS) d [WC] Daria Gavrilova (AUS) 6-1 7-6(7)
Jessica Pegula (USA) d [WC] Sam Stosur (AUS) 6-0 6-1

Men’s doubles, first round
[WC] James Duckworth (AUS)/Marc Polmans (AUS) d Nikola Cacic (SRB)/Frederik Nielsen (DEN) 6-4 6-4
John Millman (AUS)/Thiago Monteiro (BRA) d Federico Coria (ARG)/Diego Schwartzman (ARG) 7-6(5) 6-1

Women’s doubles, first round
Arina Rodionova (AUS)/Storm Sanders (AUS) d [WC] Simona Halep (ROU)/Charlotte Kempenaers-Pocz (AUS) 6-4 7-5
[WC] Lizette Cabrera (AUS)/Maddison Inglis (AUS) d Renata Voracova (CZE)/Wang Yafan (CHN) 7-6(3) 4-6 7-6[10]
[WC] Olivia Gadecki (AUS)/Belinda Woolcock (AUS) d Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROU)/Ankita Raina (IND) 6-3 6-0
[1] Su-wei Hsieh (TPE)/Barbora Strycova (CZE) d [WC] Destanee Aiava (AUS)/Astra Sharma (AUS) 6-4 5-7 6-4
[16] Laura Siegemund (GER)/Vera Zvonareva (RUS) d [WC] Kimberly Birrell (AUS)/Jaimee Fourlis (AUS) 6-2 6-1
Ons Jabeur (TUN)/Christina McHale (USA) d [WC] Daria Gavrilova (AUS)/Ellen Perez (AUS) 7-6(4) 6-4
Arantxa Rus (NED)/Tamara Zidansek (SLO) d Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS)/Alison Riske (USA) 6-1 6-7(5) 7-5

Australian Open 2021 tickets are now on sale via Ticketmaster.