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'FEELING UNREAL': AUSSIE SPIRIT PROPELS CHRISTOPHER O'CONNELL IN A FIVE SET EPIC



Australian journeyman Christopher O’Connell clawed his way out of a likely early exit to win an epic five-set battle against world number 86 Cristian Garin in what will go down as one of the matches of the tournament.


Recent history was favourable to the latter, winning his only two meetings against O’Connell - both in straight sets.


There was a sea of Australian and Chilean flags in the stands, adding to a colourful atmosphere on Court 3.


An incredible amount of support for Garin was echoed through the repeated echoes of “CHI-CHI-CHI…LE-LE-LE…VI-VA…CHI-LE” to rival the Australian chants.


That translated onto the court, as Garin flew out the blocks to claim an early 3-0 lead and take the opening set 6-3.


Worryingly for O’Connell, the match was quickly spiralling out of control when his opponent found himself up a set and a break, before showcasing his true Aussie fighting spirit to avoid a tiebreak and claim the second set 7-5.


Controversy erupted in the third set when O’Connell looked to have dug out a half volley at the net, only for the chair umpire to deem it a double bounce to result in a two-minute argument with the official.


Garin, clearly bothered by the crowd noise behind him, would turn to the Australian fans with a fist-pump aimed to rile them up - an act which unsurprisingly didn’t go down well with the locals.


Those jeers weren’t enough to derail Garin, keeping his cool to close it out 6-4 and have one foot into the next round.


Signs were pointing to the Chilean running away with it when he broke O’Connell’s first service game of the fourth set, but the Sydneysider quickly clicked into gear and lifted his intensity to play more aggressively from the baseline.


Those tactics worked wonders to help O’Connell win six consecutive games in emphatic fashion to get the green and gold faithful up on their feet in scenes that are more commonly associated with South American football matches.


Staring down the possibility of squandering a match that was on Garin’s racquet in both sets he threw away, O’Connell produced a miraculous passing shot in a contest already filled with quality exchanges to steal the break early in the decider.


Serving for the match at 5-4, the 29-year-old Australian failed to capitalise with destiny in his own hands to allow Garin to level the fifth set at 5-5.


As if the match didn’t need any further twists and turns, it was Garin who couldn’t compose himself on serve, handing back over the initiative to his rival on the other side of the net.


Finally, after four hours and 21 minutes of incredible atmosphere, tension, and quality; O’Connell reigned supreme to claim a 3-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 victory in what will go down as arguably one of the biggest triumphs of his career.


In the post-match press conference, O’Connell summarised the emotions he felt after a well-earned win.


“Feeling unreal. Amazing feeling. I’ve had so many good memories on that court, but I’ve just added another one,” he said.


O’Connell reminisced the moment he was broken after serving for the match, explaining what went through his mind.


“I was super confident I was just going to serve it out. I started finding my rhythm, my serve, the wind died down that mucked me up earlier.


“I played a really good game to break back, and then I caught a second opportunity to serve it out. I somehow did it, even though I faced a break point.”


With three days to recover, O’Connell will await the winner of 16th seed Ben Shelton and veteran Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round.

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