Kokkinakis falls flat in face of Dimitrov power, 2023 finalist falls after longest tie-breaker in grand slam history


Crowd favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis was unable to reproduce his Australian Open first-round heroics, outclassed by in-form Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.

A packed house at John Cain Arena on Thursday night was unable to lift Kokkinakis to an upset win over the world No.13, who triumphed 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-4.

The loss by Kokkinakis leaves Alex de Minaur as the only remaining Australian male in the tournament.

After his gruelling five-set thriller against Austrian Sebastian Ofner in the opening round, Kokkinakis looked flat early against a rampant Dimitrov and appeared to be struggling with a hip injury.

The 32-year-old broke the Australian early in the first two sets to set up the victory and played some flawless tennis that didn’t allow the world No.80 many chances to find his way back into the match.

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The gutsy Kokkinakis stayed with Dimitrov in the third set. Up 5-4 on serve, he had two break points against him at 15-40, before he clinched the set when Dimitrov netted a backhand.

The 27-year-old South Australian kept going toe to toe with Dimitrov in the fourth set until losing his serve to trail 4-5, allowing the veteran to serve out the match to love. 

“I got a bit passive at some point and got away from my game … but I kept on being composed throughout the whole match and stayed within myself,” Dimitrov said.

Thanasi Kokkinakis. (Photo by Sarah Reed/Getty Images)

“I couldn’t get too hung up on the mistakes that I was doing. He was playing good tennis and he was pressing me and I had too many opportunities, but I couldn’t convert.

“I just had to be patient and I served it out beautifully.”

Their unforced error count was almost the same, but former world No.3 Dimitrov, who won the Brisbane International lead-in tournament, came up with the big plays when it mattered most.

Dimitrov, whose best result at Melbourne Park was a semi-final showing in 2017, finished with 68 winners to 40 from Kokkinakis, while he was particularly dangerous at the net.

He will next face Portugal’s Nuno Borges, who saw off Spanish 23rd seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Alcaraz power on show

Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz has flexed his muscles at Melbourne Park with an entertaining four-set victory to equal an Australian Open personal best.

The two-time grand slam champion was challenged by Italian Lorenzo Sonego on Thursday, conceding the second set before moving on with a 6-4 6-7 (3-7) 6-3 7-6 (7-3) victory.

Alcaraz’s brute strength and incredible shot-making were on full show to the Rod Laver Arena crowd, as the three-hour and 25-minute spectacle bled into the night session.

“I’m really happy with my performance today,” the 20-year-old said after making an outrageous round-the-net shot at 3-3 in the second set on his way to notching his 200th tour-level match.

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— Carlos Alcaraz (@carlosalcaraz) January 18, 2024

“The match was a little bit tricky with the wind and the sun … it was tough to bring your best.”

The result equals his best result at Melbourne Park, a third-round exit in 2022.

Alcaraz has reached at least the semi-finals in the other three majors, winning the US Open in 2022 and Wimbledon in 2023 as he became world No.1.

The second seed can recapture top spot from Novak Djokovic with this year’s Australian Open crown, after missing the 2023 tournament through injury.

The Spaniard next faces 18-year-old Chinese wildcard Juncheng Shang, who ended Indian qualifier Sumit Nagal’s tournament 2-6 6-3 7-5 6-4.

Earlier, Olympic champion Alexander Zverev snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a five-set marathon win over Lukas Klein.

In a see-sawing second-round encounter on John Cain Arena, Zverev was two points away from  elimination when serving to stay in the match at 5-6 in the fifth set, but held his nerve to oust the Slovakian qualifier 7-5 3-6 4-6 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (10-7).

The pair traded blows for four hours and 30 minutes, before the German star won out in a nail-biting super tiebreak.

“To be honest, he probably deserved to win the match more than me today,” Zverev said of the world No.163.

The German let out a pressure-relieving scream after booking a third-round clash with American Alex Michelsen, a 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-4 winner over Czech No.32 seed Jiri Lehecka.

Zverev came under scrutiny this week when German news outlets reported he would stand trial in May, during the French Open, after he was ordered to pay fines of 450,000 Euro ($A750,000) over an alleged assault of a former partner.

The sixth seed contested the fines, forcing the case to trial.

Zverev was bemused when the only English-language question in Thursday’s post-match press conference centred on whether he planned to attend the trial in person.

“Wow. That’s a question,” he replied.

“I just played four hours, 40 minutes … I’ve got no idea.”

In other men’s results, Danish eighth seed Holger Rune was shocked in his second round with French wildcard Arthur Cazaux, losing 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 4-6 6-3.

Spanish No.23 seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina was punted by Portugal’s Nuno Borges 7-6 (9-7) 6-3 6-3, who will next face Grigor Dimitrov with the Bulgarian 13th seed downing Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-4..

Serb Miomir Kecmanovic sent big-serving German No.24 seed Jan-Lennard Struff packing 6-4 1-6 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 7-6 (11-9).

Kecmanovic’s reward is a date with last year’s Open semi-finalist Tommy Paul after the American 14th seed beat Brit Jack Draper 6-2 3-6 6-3 7-5.

Elsewhere, Australian Max Purcell pushed No.11 seed Casper Ruud all the way in a gallant 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 3-6 7-6 (10-7) loss.

Ruud will next face top-ranked Brit Cameron Norrie, who turned the tables on Italian Giulio Zeppieri after falling two sets behind to win 3-6 6-7 (4-7) 6-2 6-4 6-4.

Dutch 28th seed Tallon Griekspoor was a 3-6 6-1 7-5 6-4 winner over Frenchman Arthur Fils, and French No.21 seed Ugo Humbert held off China’s Zhizhen Zhang 6-2 5-7 6-1 7-6 (7-3).

Last year’s finalist ousted in epic

Iga Swiatek admits she was ready to pack her bags for home before clawing her way into the Australian Open third round with an epic escape against former finalist Danielle Collins.

Swiatek fought back from a double service break down in the deciding set to scrape into the last 32 with a 6-4 3-6 6-4 victory under a closed roof at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday.

A heavy shower midway through the opening set forced officials to complete the match indoors.

Fans could not have expected when play was briefly stopped at 3-3 what a roller-coaster three-hour, 13-minute encounter they would witness upon the match’s resumption.

“Oh my God, I was at the airport already,” the Pole said of her Houdini act from 4-1 down in the deciding set.

“But I wanted to fight till the end. I knew that she played just perfectly, but it would be hard for anybody to keep that level.

“So I wanted to be ready when more mistakes are going to come from the other side.

“And I just wanted to push her and I did that at the end and I’m really proud of myself because it wasn’t easy.”

After winning the opening set, Swiatek quickly found herself trailing 5-1 and 40-15 in the second.

She managed to fend off five set points before Collins finally levelled the match after some two and a quarter hours.

Swiatek, who lost to Collins in the semi-finals two years ago before Ash Barty stopped the feisty American in the title match, was staring down the barrel again after losing four of the first five games in the third set.

Collins, though, lost her nerve as the four-time grand slam champion dodged a bullet to extend her winning streak to 18 matches and remain on track for a maiden Open crown.

Presented with as devilish a draw as any top seed could expect, Swiatek also had to battle past 2020 champion Sofia Kenin in the opening round.

Rankings-wise, the four-time grand slam champion should find things a tad easier in the third round against Czech world No.50 Linda Noskova.

Noskova, a 6-3 1-6 6-4 winner over American qualifier Kessler McCartney, was among other players to progress on the weather-hit fifth day.

While Swiatek avoided the scrap heap, third seed and last year’s Open runner-up Elena Rybakina couldn’t in an even more enthralling battle with fellow Russian Anna Blinkova.

Elena Rybakina walks over to give Anna Blinkova a hug after their match.

Beautiful sportsmanship after the longest tiebreak in Australian Open history for the women.

Gracious as always.

What a special match from these two ladies. pic.twitter.com/KwWN1d62z1

— The Tennis Letter (@TheTennisLetter) January 18, 2024

Rybakina saved an incredible eight match points but not a ninth as Blinkova prevailed 6-4 4-6 7-6 (22-20) in the longest tiebreaker in grand slam history, which stretched more than half an hour.

Blinkova herself fended off six match points before finally winning after two hours and 46 minutes.

“I will remember this match for the rest of my life,” Blinkova said after booking a third-round date with Italian 26th seed Jasmine Paolini.

Chinese 12th seed Qinwen Zheng also marched on, eliminating Alex de Minaur’s British girlfriend Katie Boulter 6-3 6-3.

Frenchwoman Clara Burel claimed the biggest scalp of her career with a 6-4 6-2 shellacking of American No.5 seed Jessica Pegula on Margaret Court Arena.

The 22-year-old caused the biggest boilover of the tournament to date in 70 minutes, having never beaten a top-10 ranked player in her five previous attempts.

Her third-round opponent will be compatriot Oceane Dodin, who led wire-to-wire in a 6-4 6-4 victory over Italian Martina Trevisan.

Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens took a page out of Swiatek’s book to rally from a set down to see off Russian 14th seed Daria Kasatkina 4-6 6-3 6-3.

Stephens next faces another Russian Anna Kalinskaya, a 6-4 6-4 winner over Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus.

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