There was nowhere to hide, Show Court 2 a cauldron of emotion, noise and heat for players and spectators alike as Australia’s Matthew Ebden deservedly clawed his way to only a second-ever win in his home Open with a 6-3 7-5 4-6 0-6 6-3 triumph over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut.
You dig deep for matches like these, and Ebden is nothing if not a battler, his ‘never say die’ tenacity propelling him to a victory that seemed in some doubt at the end of a fourth set. It was a stunning finale to a quality contest.
In their first career meeting, both men will have inwardly noted an opportunity to progress. Neither came in blessed with the finest of records at Melbourne Park; just one win previously in four outings for Ebden, while Mahut was a tad more prolific with five wins in six years.
They were well matched, an early two-set stroll to Ebden disguising the essential equality on show, his focus and feisty outlook the difference.
A third set to the Frenchman followed on the back of a strong serve and volley ploy, Ebden holding to the previously-profitable backcourt at all times and failing to match the his assertive opponent.
A surprisingly quick fourth set came and went in a flash, six games to love with Mahut strong on serve as the crowd seemingly content to take a breather and await the decider.
These are stylish men, possessing wonderful sliced backhands and clinical forehands, the Frenchman with the slightly more depth of game and power, the Perth-based Australian calling on the crowd and his inner will to fuel him ever onwards.
It made for an enthralling contest, relief more than joy doubtless the dominant emotion for the winner.
Five sets, of course, do not bother Mahut, he of the epic three-day marathon at Wimbledon some four years ago, while a revitalised Ebden, baseball cap now rotated to the fore, visibly fed upon the yellow-clad vocal support behind one end of the stands.
Recharged somehow at two sets apiece, a 4-1 lead to Ebden materialised from nowhere in the decider, his body language and belief showing his determination not to let this one slip. And despite a break back from Mahut he held firm, a final break in the eighth game decisive.
A beautifully put-away overhead, ace and conceded forehands from the Frenchman then saw out the match, the crowd ecstatic with Mahut graciously acknowledging their input as he left. It was some afternoon.