Marinko Matosevic’s nightmare year appeared to be carrying over into the Australian Open wildcard play-offs on Monday but the fiery Victorian ultimately progressed after a gruelling five-setter.
Matosevic, the seventh seed at the play-offs, was forced to a deciding set in warm conditions at Melbourne Park by Queenslander Maverick Banes before prevailing 3-6 6-1 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 6-3 in just under three-and-a-half hours.
Previously the top-ranked Australian player with a world ranking of 39, Matosevic has suffered a dizzying drop to 296.
In a horror 2015 he was stricken by a month-long virus he picked up in Mexico, a foot stress fracture and finally a serious back strain that caused the rankings freefall.
“I felt really rusty out there – the last time I was healthy was March,” Matosevic said.
“It’s been a long road back to get healthy and then to play some decent tennis.
“I thought my ball striking was really good but just the errors hurt me – it could have been much easier.
“He didn’t really test me, it was like a test against myself. It was good.”
The winner of the tournament will receive entry into the main draw of the Australian Open, starting on January 18.
“I was top 40, so I think I’m the best player in the thing,” Matosevic said of his chances.
“I’ve done the most in tennis. If I play decent I should win it.”
In other first-round action, top seed James Duckworth progressed with a 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 6-3 win over Tasmanian Harry Bourchier
Second seed Jordan Thompson went through with a straight-sets win over New South Welshman Matt Reid 6-3 6-2 6-1 and Bradley Mousley upset sixth seed Gavin Van Peperzeel 6-3 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 6-4.
Unseeded Victorian Marc Polmans progressed when fifth seed Alex Bolt retired.