Another Australian Open, another captivating Nick Kyrgios rollercoaster.
The mercurial Australian saved two match points to battle back 5-7 6-4 3-6 7-6(2) 6-4 against French prodigy Ugo Humbert on Wednesday night.
Pitched on his favourite John Cain Arena, reminiscent of his five-set thriller with Karen Khachanov on the same court last summer, the 25-year-old prevailed to book a tantalising third round with US Open champion Dominic Thiem.
“Honestly, I don’t know how I did that,” said the stunned home charge. “That’s one of the craziest matches I’ve ever played.”
Down a break in the fourth set, Kyrgios unleashed a flurry of whirlwind shots to reel in the 29th seed over three and a half hours of compelling tennis.
“He’s one heck of a player. He’s one of the most improved players from last year, played some amazing tennis,” continued Kyrgios. “I didn’t play much for a year, he’s been great, but I guess the one thing I had on was experience. I’ve been through so much on this court, the comebacks, I just tried to draw upon that.”
It was a frenetic start with Humbert’s flair and Kyrgios’ rapid-fire service games.
The ardent local support added an extra element, with both players enjoying the theatre. Humbert laughed with this opponent after Kyrgios faked another underarm serve.
A Michael Jordan style ‘jumpman’ drive volley and firecracker forehands signaled 2015 quarterfinalist Kyrgios was trying to up the tempo, to disrupt the composed nature of the French youngster.
Crafty tennis enabled Humbert to stay ahead and whilst Kyrgios grew impatient, the world No.34 earned two set points with a graceful spinning backhand volley. Suddenly, the opener was snatched away.
World No.47 Kyrgios found his groove and the explosive artillery which has beaten the very best, forcing Humbert off-kilter. An early advantage from 3-1 was maintained, the Australian leveling up with booming serves and a roaring celebration.
However, Humbert’s calm demeanor remained intact, the efficient gameplay and impeccable accuracy grinding down the Australian’s impact, steering through the third set. Two untimely double faults then cost Kyrgios to fall behind at the beginning of the fourth set.
There were signs of a trademark Kyrgios comeback with three break points dismissed at 3-4 by clutch Humbert deliveries.
Up stepped Kyrgios: 4-5 and a toe-tapping return to the baseline and a trio of darted winners helped dissolve match points to level. John Cain Arena was bouncing.
By now the Australian was feeding off the crowd’s energy with cavalier play and a rocket-fuel tiebreak, highlighted by an immense backhand pass and 219km/h second serve ace, forced a decider.
Humbert far from wilted, but once Kyrgios struck the crucial break for 2-1, there was a sense of inevitability to Kyrgios replicating his John Cain Arena heroics once again.
“It was a strange match. If you could be inside my head, there were some dark thoughts,” reflected the relieved 25-year-old, shaking his head in disbelief.
“That tends to be my career. I live to fight another day.”
AO 2017 semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov dented the home contingent with a 7-6(1) 6-1 6-2 passage past Australian wildcard Alex Bolt later on Wednesday.
The Bulgarian edged the nip and tuck opener, but cruised through the second and third sets to book a last-32 encounter with 15th seed Pablo Carreno Busta.
“It’s been a long road the last two or three months, I’m just very happy to be through. It’s never easy against a home crowd favourite,” said the former world No.3. “I just want to make the most of this opportunity.”
Patience as the key as world No.7 Alexander Zverev continued his impressive start 7-5 6-4 6-3 against the big serving of college tennis alumni Maxime Cressy.
Zverev, who made the semifinals at Melbourne Park last summer, was forced to clip plenty of exquisite passing shots facing the extensive wingspan and 100-time net-rushing American.
“He was an extremely difficult player to play against, having just come out of college,” said the German.
“I know his kind of game very well, I have my brother in the box (Mischa) who plays similar, so I had to be patient and wait for my chances. I’m very pleased how I played.”
Zverev, who takes on 32nd seed Adrian Mannarino next, is still fired-up by the agonising US Open final defeat to Thiem last September.
“I still have that in the back of my mind. I was two points away from being a Grand Slam champion,” he said.
“I take that into this year, it’s definitely a motivation. I’m not the favourite, but I’m going to do everything I can.”
Source: Alex Sharp