Fans who braved the heat were treated to a wonderful third-round match at the Australian Open as Petra Martic outlasted Luksika Kumkhum to claim her first ever spot in the fourth round in Melbourne, where she'll face Elise Mertens.
The two went toe-to-toe in the blazing Melbourne sun for two hours, 14 minutes before the Croat emerged only just with a hard-earned victory. Kumkhum, who upset Belinda Bencic in the previous round, was in the third round of a major for the first time.
Break-filled first set goes Martic's way
Kumkhum had to rally from an immediate 0-30 hole on her serve to start the match, but after doing so, she broke after watching Martic's forehand sail just over the baseline for a 2-0 lead.
In what would become a them of the opening set, the Croat broke back and after a love hold, went up 0-40 on the Thai's serve. Saving the first chance with a volley winner, she ventured into the net again, horribly missing to give Martic a 3-2 lead.
Trading breaks, Martic led 4-3 before a hold to 30. At 5-3, she then created a set point, taken when Kumkhum missed a backhand volley after a series of slices by the 81st-ranked Croat.
Kumkhum rebounds to take second set
Creating a 15-40 lead on Martic's serve, Kumkhum missed on the first chance, but blasted a crosscourt backhand on her second opportunity to take the early lead.
Both players settled down with strong serving dominating the middle part of the set. As a result, Kumkhum led 4-2. The pair would trade breaks and at 30-30, the Thai would rip another backhand winner to set up set point, taken on a Martic double fault to send the match to a third and deciding set.
Martic takes tense final set to advance
The third set was fraught with tension, Martic gaining the immediate edge after a pair of unforced errors from Kumkhum, but giving that advantage right back, broken to love when the Thai blasted another crosscourt winner.
Both players survived scares as the set went on. Kumkhum saved four break points in the fifth game and Martic fended off a pair of break chances in the eighth game. The pivotal moment came at 5-5.
Leading 40-15 on serve, the Thai suddenly faced break point and, perhaps due to the extreme heat and length of the match, double-faulted, handing the Croat the chance to serve out the match, which she did with a final backhand driven into the net by her plucky opponent.
Martic is a talented player with a quirky style and her run is no fluke. This is the third time in the last four majors she has reached at least the fourth round and despite hitting only 18 winners as compared to 44 for Kumkhum, she won more points off of her first and second serves, enabling herself to win points quicker, key in this blistering weather.
Kumkhum usually performs well in Melbourne, having upset Petra Kvitova before and adding Bencic to that list this year, but her game is not conducive to being a regular on the tour. She's big, hits a nice ball and is a decent mover, but doesn't anything outstanding. She'll be back here next year, but besides that, it's iffy if we'll see her again before then.