Even in a loss to Daniil Medvedev, Nick Kyrgios served up box office entertainment


Nick Kyrgios’ most pertinent observation ahead of his Australian Open second round match was that Daniil Medvedev had twice become the player Kyrgios had beaten in two matches in 2019.

The implication made by others was that removing Kyrgios from John Cain Arena – “Kyrgios’ court”, as the man himself accurately called it – and placing him on center court would make the Australian half the strength he had been before. his “zoo” of superfans.

Did that play on Kyrgios’ mind in his somewhat inevitable four-set loss to the tournament favorite? At first it seemed so. Kyrgios tends to do collapses out of molehills, and again, that was a classic case.

In Medvedev’s first service game of the match, Kyrgios got two break points and started spinning his arms to wrap the crowd up, as if they weren’t doing enough to help him. Moments later, the breakpoints were inflated, highlighting the kind of reverse logic that helps Kyrgios produce slices of unpredictable genius but just as often sabotages him at critical moments.

The rest could have flowed entirely from there. Kyrgios dropped the opening set with a disastrous tiebreaker, summed up by the stadium-wide groan when his first double fault of the game came at precisely the wrong time.

An unflappable Daniil Medvedev has proven his game has come a long way over the past three years.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

The toll of the above – the first set was 62 minutes of power, aerobic effort and shredded nerves – could be seen midway through the second set, when Kyrgios fought to hold serve and worked under the immense physical pressure that Medvedev inflicts on his opponents. . Asthma and a diagnosis of COVID-19 had also marred Kyrgios’ preparation.

Kyrgios’ second double fault of the match had the same effect as the first – Medvedev surged and won the second set 6-4 in 44 minutes. The third should have been a formality, but there was a surprise in store in the seventh game – an unpleasant one for Medvedev, but a vital delight for all who watch.

In short, Kyrgios found reserves of energy and brilliance which had seemed to him to exceed it in the first two hours of the match. Running down the pitch with cat-like intensity and the support of a crowd no more respectful of their opponent than those usually found at John Cain, Kyrgios tipped from the hip and snapped in the ninth game.

That’s not to say Kyrgios’ revival wasn’t subtle. Despite an entertaining interaction with the crowd and his usual bickering with the referee, he had to be crafty to get back into it. To do this, he partly gave up the basic battle he was losing and brought Medvedev to the net more often.

The moment of the night – one for the highlight of Kyrgios’ career, even – came when Kyrgios served the third set and was lost in a tongue-wagging celebration – one part ruffled lizard, two parts by Gene Simmons. A muttering mess only 40 minutes earlier, now he had the crowd spellbound.

Alas, it was his last shot. In the fourth, Medvedev served like a demon, going through the love games and dropping just one point on his first serve. The pressure on Kyrgios escalated to unbearable levels and he was broken in the sixth game thanks to Medvedev’s unstoppable flat backhand.

Two male tennis players shake hands at the net at the Australian Open.
The match was played with far more respect between the two stars than the crowd gave to Daniil Medvedev.(Getty Images: Cameron Spencer)

The pity of such an engaging contest was the unsportsmanlike way the Melbourne crowd treated Medvedev – a fact even Kyrgios acknowledged, to his credit. During the match itself, Medvedev allowed himself nothing more demonstrative than a few punches. After that, he let loose on the crowd sarcastically and not without justification.

But this result was not a matter of psychology or partisanship. In patches, Kyrgios was excellent. All night Medvedev was much better – faster, hungrier, more controlled. The way he consistently collected Kyrgios’ serves at 215mph near the player entrance tunnel, hitting crisp and controlled returns, was nothing short of astonishing.

For Kyrgios, it’s not a disastrous result. His illnesses had lowered expectations. But time passes. It was his ninth campaign at the Australian Open. In his second – in 2015, when a decade of deep slam runs seemed his birthright – he reached the quarter-finals. With the loss, his tournament average is now closer to a second-round start than a third.

It’s a shame for the fans more than anything else. At a time when so many elite sports are overhyped and interchangeable, the few summer nights a year Australians spend in the unpredictable company of Kyrgios tend to linger in the memory.

Will he ever take the big leap? It seems unlikely. He is now nearly 27 and has played just 15 tournaments in the past two years, making drastic improvements unlikely.

Still, Kyrgios remains as watchable as anyone, and it’s hard not to like him in moments like the one leading up to this game when he said his overriding feeling about Medvedev was the excitement that he would play one of the best in the world in the prime time slot this contest deserved.

The worry is that one day he will blink and realize these games are just high-end matinees.

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