Rivalries aren’t always scripted to be played out between the game’s elite on the grandest of stages, but that matters little to 82nd-ranked Japanese Tatsuma Ito and Aussie wildcard John Millman, with their latest battle stretching to five sets on Monday night at Australian Open 2013.
After nearly three and a half hours on Court 3, the 184th-ranked Millman fell agonisingly short of a remarkable win, fighting back from two sets down and having held a break point to serve for the match.
Ito collapsed to his back in jubilation when Millman’s final forehand framed into the stands, allowing the Japanese player to follow his far more celebrated countryman Kei Nishikori into the second round with a 6-4 6-3 3-6 0-6 7-5 result.
It is the second time already this year the pair had played, with Millman taking the honours before his home crowd in the opening round in Brisbane a fortnight ago.
After losing three matches to Ito last year – all in Asia, all on hardcourts on the Challenger circuit – Millman had joked with Ito he’d get him on his fourth attempt.
He had lived up to his word, and after looking the fitter of the two in the latter stages of their Melbourne Park match, it seemed he would close the gap once more on their fledgling hardcourt rivalry.
Ito was first to break in the deciding set, surging to 4-1. Millman quickly brought terms back on serve, but then dropped to love with a double fault.
With Ito serving for the match, Millman again mounted a comeback, ripping a backhand winner up the line before breaking for 4-5.
It would be the last time the Japanese player would falter, fighting off break point at 5-6 before breaking the Queenslander to love for a second-round date with either Marcos Baghdatis or Albert Ramos.