Former US Open champion and 2018 Australian Open finalist Marin Cilic survived a tough five-setter, prevailing over Frenchman Benoit Paire after a fifth set tie-breaker.
Before a boisterous crowd on court three, 2014 US Open champion Cilic progressed to the third round after three hours and 33 minutes on court.
There was drama aplenty in the final set especially, and at one stage the chair umpire tried to placate Paire by telling him to ignore the vocal fans after the French 21st seed had complained.
“Don’t let them distract you. Let me take care of it,” the official told him.
But later, when asked about the behaviour, the Frenchman played a straight defence to any suggestions he was annoyed by the fans. “No problem, it was OK.”
Paire fought strongly to take the second set in a tie-breaker but Cilic showed his class when the match was up for grabs in the five-set decider, winning 6-2, 6-7 (6-8), 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (10-3).
However, the tournament is over for Italian top 10 player Matteo Berrettini and US Open semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov, with the 18th seed Bulgarian sent packing by American Tommy Paul in a clash also decided by a tie-breaker in the fifth.
Paul will next play Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics after winning 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (10-3) on Margaret Court Arena.
Berrettini went out at the hands of American Tennys Sandgren in a five-setter than went well past the three-hour mark.
Australian wildcard Marc Polmans was beaten by Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3.
Potentially awaiting Cilic in the round of 32 is a tough assignment against Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, if Spain’s second-best player first defeats American wildcard Michael Mmoh.
Emerging Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas was one of the biggest names through to the third round on Wednesday but that was only after his opponent, veteran German Philipp Kohlschreiber, pulled out of their second-round clash with injury.
World No. 2 and seven-time winner Novak Djokovic, Canadian Milos Raonic, American Sam Querrey, Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, American Tennys Sandgren and Argentines Diego Schwartzman and Guido Pella were others to reach the next stage.
The clash between Tsitsipas, who broke through at Melbourne Park one year ago by reaching the semis, and Raonic shapes as one of the third-round matches to watch on Friday.
Schwartzman spent a touch under two hours on court before defeating Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. He was happy to overcome the windy conditions which, after heavy rain on Monday and the smoke haze last week, had an impact at Melbourne Park.
“Well, today’s match was tough because of the conditions. Was not easy to play today with the wind,” Schwartzman said.
“Thinking about that conditions, my game was very good, very solid. The game I was trying to do, before the match I think to do, was very nice on court.”
Similarly, the overwhelming tournament favourite Djokovic took just one hour and 35 minutes to defeat Japan’s wildcard entrant Tatsuma Ito.
“I was like, ‘Yes, it’s going to be a windy day.’ I love the wind! I’m being sarcastic now, of course,” Djokovic said.
“I don’t think players enjoy these kind of conditions, to be honest. It is what it is.
“You have to accept them and embrace the fact that you’re going to, I guess you’re going to be challenged on different levels, not just by your opponent, but also the conditions.
“Hopefully we won’t be affected here in Melbourne by the quality of air. I heard there’s going to be some rain tonight and tomorrow. Hopefully that will help clear up the air. It is a bit different today than the last couple days.”
Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age