Thanasi Kokkinakis has reminded a lot of people of his obvious class. Greek No.5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was one of many.
Kokkinakis played in a manner that belied his current world ranking of 267, pushing Tsitsipas to his limits before the Greek superstar pulled out a 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-1 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 win at Rod Laver Arena.
In a tense finish, Kokkinakis was left to rue a couple of rash strokes on Tsitsipas’ final service game that ultimately proved to be fatal.
With Tsitsipas leading 5-4 in the final set, Kokkinakis gave himself an opening by taking a 30-15 lead as No.5 seed lashed his next first serve into the net.
However, the Aussie was unable to capitalise on two consecutive second serves from Tsitsipas, who let out a primal roar after securing a ticket to the third round.
Following the match, the 22-year-old showered praise on the beaten Aussie, expressing his excitement at seeing the oft-injured star back on the court again.
“Thanasi is a great competitor and a great fighter. It was very difficult facing him today,” Tsitsipas said.
“He’s a talent and he has huge potential, I’m 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 and has all the weapons on the baseline.
“Thanasi wasn’t able to play all these years due to the injuries he had and it was a big shame because we were missing someone on the tour.
“I’m very happy to see him back and competing at the very highest level and we’re a generation of great players.”
Coming into the match riding a wave of emotion after his first-round win, Kokkinakis started off impressively in his first outing on Rod Laver Arena since his second career Grand Slam match back in 2014.
Down 5-4 and serving to stay in the set, Kokkinakis saved two set points from Tsitsipas before forcing the tiebreaker.
In the tiebreaker, the Aussie was able to get himself a lead late before an unforced error from the Greek superstar gave him the opening set.
After Tsitsipas drew level in the second set, Kokkinakis was left to lament a cruel piece of luck early in what turned out to be a nightmare third set.
40-love down and already in an early hole, the Aussie looked as if he had found a way back into the game when he coaxed a groundstroke out of Tsitsipas which landed deep of the baseline.
By official rules when a spare ball falls onto court during play, it is called a let and the point is replayed.
However, that is only when the point is live. By the time Kokkinakis’ ball had fallen from his pocket, Tsitsipas’ had already played his shot with the ball obviously landing well deep of the baseline.
The umpire called the point to be replayed at a crucial junction when Kokkinakis could have found himself back into the set – and the Aussie let the official know exactly how he felt.
“That had no interference on the play, no one touched the ball,” Kokkinakis said as he approached the umpire’s chair.
But as the ball landed out, Kokkinakis’ spare tennis ball bobbled out of his pocket and landed on the court at the precise same moment Tsitsipas’ shot fell deep.
The Aussie looked all but done when he was rolled 6-1 in the third, but refused to roll over as he stuck with the Greek star and claimed the fourth set in a tie-break.
Tsitsipas on the other hand copped a massive blow and looked rattled when he coughed up the fourth set in a tie-break.
“Tsitsipas well he’s a bit lost, he’s lost track of the score here, he’s gone to change ends,” Sam Groth said in commentary when the Greek star bizarrely tried to change ends a the wrong moment.
Nick Kyrgios also made an appearance at the arena to cheer on his good mate and doubles partner.