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'Junkies ripping me': Kokk's bizarre reveal on Murray heartbreak after epic win, Aussie Ajla's extraordinary comeback

16th January, 2024
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16th January, 2024
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Thanasi Kokkinakis advanced to the second round of the Australian Open with an epic five-set win over Sebastian Ofner on Tuesday night and – a big hearted performance ensuring he almost certainly avoided recriminations from deadbeats at Crown Casino this time around.

The Aussie delivered the line of the tournament after enduring his four-hour plus battle and emerging a winner, a year after a heartbreaking loss in another epic against Andy Murray that went into the wee hours.

“I know it’s a first round but this one meant a lot,” said Kokkinakis. “Obviously last year that one hurt – had a couple of junkies come up to me at Crown Casino ripping me for that that loss against Murray. I didn’t enjoy that too much but glad I could make amends and and win a five-setter here.”

Kokkinakis recovered from a two-sets-to-one deficit against Ofner to win 7-6, 2-6, 6-7, 6-1, 7-6. It sets up a second round match against Grigor Dimitrov.

Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia celebrates match point in their round one singles match against Sebastian Ofner of Austria during the 2024 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 16, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Thanasi Kokkinakis. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

He said he wished he could have taken an easier route to victory but reflected “I’ve got the mental focus of a three-year-old.”

Watch every Australian Open match ad-free, live & on demand with centre court in 4K Ultra-HD on the home of Grand Slam tennis, Stan Sport.

Kokkinakis joined fellow Aussies world No.10 Alex de Minaur, Alexei Popyrin, Jordan Thompson, Chris O’Connell and Max Purcell in the second round on the men’s singles side; while the women will have Ajla Tomljanovic and Storm Hunter flying the flag.

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Tomljanovic’s chances of a first win at Melbourne Park since 2021 looked slim when she trailed Croatian Petra Martic 4-1 and with a double-break in the deciding set.

But the Australian refused to give in, winning the last five games of the match to clinch a thrilling victory after two hours and 53 minutes, to the delight of a John Cain Arena crowd which had stayed to the small hours to cheer her on.

“I really was out at one point,” Tomljanovic said after the match.

“I mean, I felt like she [Martic] was kind of toying with me and I couldn’t read her serve.

“But 4-1 down, double break, you guys e never gave up even more than me.

“I was like ‘If you’re here, I should give it my best’… I’m really grateful that you all stayed this late.”

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Tomljanovic, who missed the 2023 Australian Open due to a serious knee injury, used a protected ranking to secure entry to the main draw of the 2024 tournament.

Her win over Martic sets up a tough challenge against 11th seed Jelena Ostapenko, who had an easier time of dispatching another Australian in Kim Birrell earlier in the day.

The pair have a spicy history, with Tomljanovic engaging in a heated discussion at the net after the Aussie’s three-set win over the fiery Latvian at Wimbledon in 2021, with Ostapenko claiming she had ‘zero respect’ after being accused of faking an injury that saw her take a lengthy medical timeout.

In the afternoon sesson, Purcell roared to life and given home fans some cheer with a landmark first-round Australian Open victory.

Australian tennis’s most improved performer recovered from a labouring start to post a 3-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 7-5 win over Hungarian qualifier Mate Valkusz at Kia Arena.

Purcell was the first local winner on day three, joining Alex de Minaur, Alexei  Popyrin, Jordan Thompson, Chris O’Connell and Storm Hunter in the second round after posting his maiden main-draw victory at Melbourne Park.

The 25-year-old had previously crashed out in round one in 2020 and 2023.

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But those were the days when the Sydneysider was regarded more as a doubles specialist.

Watch every Australian Open match ad-free, live & on demand with centre court in 4K Ultra-HD on the home of Grand Slam tennis, Stan Sport.

Twice an Australian Open doubles runner-up and Wimbledon doubles champion in 2022, Purcell has morphed into a singles player of real substance.

He soared to No.40 in the world after reaching the Cincinnati Masters quarter-finals in August and is currently ranked No.45, making him Australian No.3 behind only de Minaur and Popyrin.

Despite a gulf of 169 rankings spots, Purcell didn’t exactly do it easy against Valkusz, struggling for much of the first two sets to find his rhythm and then blowing six match points before finally prevailing after two hours and 52 sweat-soaked minutes.

“I was kind of just like ‘turn it up’, to be honest. The guy was pummelling me,” Purcell told the courtside crowd.

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“I didn’t really stand much of a chance there, snuck my way back in the second set.

“Just tried to hold onto my serve and then hope he’d crack and he cracked and I got through it.

“I definitely needed you guys’ support deep in the fourth. I was gagging it so hard.”

He next plays Norwegian 11th seed Casper Ruud for a place in the last 32 of a grand slam for the first time.

“I played (and beat) Casper in Cincinnati in relatively lively conditions. The ball’s a little lighter than and more bouncy,” Purcell said.

“But it’s hot here, I’ll have the crowd on my side and I’m more than happy to give him another crack.”

“It took me forever to bloody close it out. I would have been fine for a fifth set … I’m feeling pretty good.”

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Max Purcell is through to the second round of the Australian Open.

Max Purcell is through to the second round of the Australian Open. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

It hadn’t been a great start to day three for the locals, with Olivia Gadecki crashing out in less than an hour and fellow wildcard James McCabe also being removed.

Gadecki was unable to emulate her first-round victory as a wildcard last year, falling 6-3 6-1 to American Sloane Stephens in 56 minutes on John Cain Arena.

The 21-year-old made a flying start, breaking Stephens to love and winning the opening eight points of the match.

But from 2-0 up, Gadecki fell apart, winning only seven more points to drop the set with a flurry of unforced errors.

Continuing to press in the second set against the clean-hitting former US Open champion, Gadecki only managed to win one more game as she finished with 26 unforced errors to Stephens’ seven.

McCabe offered more resistance in a 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 6-1 6-2 loss to American Alex Michelsen on the 20-year-old’s grand slam debut.

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(With AAP)

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