Kokkinakis is close to victory before rain ends the game while Birrell goes into the second round

This time he lost his semi-final at the same tournament which gave him more time and he warned he was in better shape than 12 months ago.

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Murray will make Kokkinakis work in a way that Fognini showed little interest in and should provide a litmus test of how far the Melbourne-based South Australian has come.

Kokkinakis led 40-30 on serve when they left the Kia Arena for the first time, eventually winning the one point he needed to hold serve more than two hours later. In between, there were two more delays just as the players started warming up.

Kokkinakis initiated another brief stoppage – concerned about how ‘slippery’ the court might get – when it rained again shortly after securing a break in the third set.

Two more aces quickly put the Australians 3-1 up, but more rain two games later prompted organizers to pull the pin on the outside courts.

It was a mixed day for Kokkinakis’ compatriots, with Alex de Minaur in 22nd and wildcard Kim Birrell the other winners, while Jordan Thompson, Chris O’Connell and Jaimee Fourlis.

Max Purcell and Aleks Vukic have to end their matches on Wednesday.

Purcell trails Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-6, while Vukic trails Brandon Holt of the United States 6-4 1-6 4-2.

‘Thank you Venus’: Australian wildcard rallies from the brink of defeat to round two

Kim Birrell “cried like a baby” when she found out about her unexpected wildcard at the Australian Open, then tried to see if she could find a way to thank American legend Venus Williams.

Birrell was the underdog as the Tennis Australia selection selected the wildcard recipients until 42-year-old Williams retired with an injury to give the Queenslander her chance.

Kim Birrell celebrates her victory.

Kim Birrell celebrates her victory.Credit:AP

The 24-year-old made the best of it, rallying on the brink of defeat to defeat 31st seed and quarterfinalist of 2022 Kaia Kanepi 3-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-6 over 2.5 hours 1 to upset in sweltering conditions that overwhelmed the Estonian.

Kanepi unsuccessfully served in the second set at 5-4 for the match after freshly breaking Birrell’s serve, but won just two of the last 10 games.

It was a big moment for 167th-ranked Birrell, who considered quitting the sport as she struggled with a serious right elbow injury that required multiple surgeries and stalled her promising career.

“I had just gotten on the pitch from training… and my brother, mum and dad were all with me when I was told [about my wildcard]’ Birrell said.

“It was a very special moment because they went through everything with me – the ups, the downs. I’m glad I got to share it with them.

“I worked my ass off just to get back on the court with rehab. There were a few moments when I didn’t think it was going to happen.

“No matter how resilient you are, rehab is really tough when you do it for a year and a half. There were times when I wanted to give up, but I’m really glad I didn’t. I’m just so happy.”

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Birrell joins fellow Queensland wildcard Olivia Gadecki in the second round, and it’s her first win at her home Grand Slam since beating Paula Badosa and Donna Vekic to reach the round of 32 in 2019.

That was supposed to be her launch pad to the top 100 and beyond, but instead she endured a horror spell before returning to the tour with a vengeance last year to drop nearly 600 places from her rankings.

This latest win puts her provisionally 149th in the live WTA rankings – which would be a career high – and means she can delay applying her communications degree from Griffith University.

It also sheds a positive light on Australian women’s tennis, which lost last year’s Australian Open champion Ash Barty to retirement and are missing injured pairing Ajla Tomljanovic and Daria Saville in these two weeks.

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The country’s representatives at this year’s women’s event were all wildcards, with Talia Gibson, Jaimee Fourlis and Storm Hunter losing their matches in the first round.

But Birrell hopes her and Gadecki’s victories can be the catalyst for more success this year.

“We all really want to see that the other is doing well. The support I received last year after my injury, then before my game and since my game ended makes me appreciate the group I have found,” Birrell said.

“We’re all so close. It’s been pretty tough for some of the girls who’ve been through really long years during COVID. I think maybe some felt the effects of that last year, but we’ve all had the chance to be home for quite a while now during pre-season.

“We are all rested and ready for what will hopefully be a great 2023. I think it will be a good year. Hopefully a few of us make it into the top 100 and I think we all will – I think everyone will follow.”

Next, Birrell meets Czech teenager Linda Fuhrvitova, who eliminated Victorias Fourlis 6-0, 6-4.

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https://www.smh.com.au/sport/tennis/kokkinakis-on-verge-of-open-victory-before-rain-interrupts-again-20230117-p5cd48.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_sport Kokkinakis is close to victory before rain ends the game while Birrell goes into the second round

Ryan Sederquist

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