Thanasi Kokkinakis has upset Latvian world number 13 Ernests Gulbis 5-7, 6-0, 1-6, 7-6 (7-2), 8-6 on Monday night, advancing to a second round match-up with fellow Aussie Sam Groth at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
The 18-year old was overwhelmed by the local support and it pushed him into his first ever 5-set match. Coming back from two sets down and surviving four separate match-points, Kokkinakis displayed a lot of character and perhaps gave a glimpse of what lies ahead in his career.
“I remember last year, I had unbelievable memories. But I will just enjoy this. It is unbelievable,” Kokkinakis told Channel Seven.
Losing the opening set in a 6-7 tie-breaker, Kokkinakis bounced right backed nailing a bagel 6-0 in the second set and sending the home crowd into delirium. The match referee Pascal Maria directed security into the crowd after several complaints by Gulbis as to the distractions caused by the incessant chanting and cheering.
Gulbis showed his experience and was visibly disgusted with his second set efforts, hitting back 1-6 in the third, needing only one more set to take the match.
The crowd sensed the youngsters need for motivation and approval, lifting in voice and at times taunting Gulbis to give Kokkinakis the edge.
Gulbis was visibly distracted and unnerved by the crowd, telling them to “shut up” several times. He still managed to play some scintillating tennis, but failed to serve out the match at 4-5 in the fourth and lost the tie-breaker convincingly 7-2.
“I was down a break in the fourth set and I got lucky on a couple of those match points – not sure whether it was luck or skill,” commented Kokkinakis in reflection of the fourth set win after the match.
His humility cannot hide the talent that was displayed on court. Both players threw everything at each other in the final set and it came down to an unfortunate pair of double-faults by the fiery Gulbis that handed Kokkinakis match point. After a strong rally between the two, Gulbis hit into the net and the match was over.
“It’s incredible,” the 18-year-old said after dispatching French Open semi-finalist Gulbis.
“I lost, he won,” Gulbis said in his press conference.
“I had no problem with the crowd.”
A match that lasted four hours and seven minutes delivered the victory and display of skill that the Australian crowds have been longing for (and demanding). Kikkinakis meets the powerful-serving Sam Groth in the second round. Groth won his first ever 1st round match at the Open on Monday afternoon.