“I just want to go for an ice bath right now, that’s all I’m thinking,” said Tsitsipas after the four-hour 32-minute battle.
“Thanasi is a great competitor and a great fighter. It was very difficult facing him today.
“He wasn’t able to play all these years due to injuries that he had, and it was a big shame because we were missing someone who was not there with us on the tour. I’m very happy to see him back competing at a very high level.”
It was a heroic performance from Kokkinakis, who hadn’t played in a Grand Slam since US Open 2019. But Tsitsipas banked on his experience to scrape through.
Tsitsipas is Greece’s most successful tennis player in history, and was pumped for his first meeting with Kokkinakis, a South Australian with Greek roots ranked 267 in the world.
The 22-year-old Tsitsipas made waves in Melbourne in 2019 when he defeated Roger Federer en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal. He returned to the last-four stage of a major at Roland Garros 2020, and is hoping to break that barrier and make his first slam final this fortnight.
Like Tsitsipas, Kokkinakis has a victory over Federer on his resume (in Miami 2018). But a series of serious injuries have plagued his career, and he arrived in Melbourne this year having played just six tour-level matches in 2019 before sitting out the entire 2020 season.