Polarising Nick Kyrgios says fear of media criticism drove him to victory in an epic five-set thriller that lit up the Australian Open, while being an “old savvy veteran” also helped.
The volatile Australian had a raucous crowd willing him to a stirring 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 victory over impressive young Frenchman Ugo Humbert at his favourite John Cain Arena in a Wednesday night match.
Along the way, Kyrgios smashed a racquet, delivered underarm serves, played ‘tweener’ shots through his own legs, ranted at the umpire and saved two match points.
It finally woke up the pandemic-hit tournament on its third night after it had been bereft of its usual buzz, with crowds barely a quarter of their usual numbers because of Covid restrictions and a three-week delay.
Kyrgios, whose on-court antics divide tennis fans, said he was driven by not wanting to deal with the media negativity that would inevitably have followed if he lost in the second round.
“Well the media doesn’t hold back on me. I felt like there was a lot of expectation on me, not playing for a year and coming back,” he said ahead of a blockbuster third-round clash with world number three Dominic Thiem on Friday.
“You know, I wasn’t expecting too much of myself, but of course when I’m match point down second-round exit, I was almost afraid.
“I was afraid to come into this (press conference) room, go to my Airbnb and just read about it and take it all in, take all the negativity in that I have already taken.
“That’s what I was thinking about. I was just, like, my back’s up against the wall and I just — I don’t know. I don’t know how I got out of it.
“It was insane. I don’t know how I would have reacted to negativity this year.”
Known for his flamboyant persona and spectacular on-court tantrums, Kyrgios has long been a provocative figure, racking up a string of fines and bans.
He is often lamented in the media as a loud mouth and wasted talent, but he has a big fanbase with 1.5 million Instagram followers and hundreds of thousands on Twitter.
“Many people don’t think that I have a heart or compete as hard as they want me to compete from time to time,” said the 25-year-old.
“(But) I have been through a lot … I put in a lot of hard work when I was young. I’ve gone through a lot, and nothing’s really been handed to me.
“I’ve won all the matches on my own. I don’t have a coach. I do everything basically on my own, and I always got myself. I always got my back.”
Humbert reached match point serving at 5-4 in the fourth set, but with Kyrgios receiving ear-splitting support, the Australian somehow saved it and another before winning a tiebreak to take a pulsating encounter the full distance.
“There was a moment in the fourth where I broke back, I was like, ‘Dude, this could be one of the most memorable matches of your career and you owe it to yourself’,” Krygios said.
“I put myself in a position to have moments like this.”
Ultimately, Kyrgios’s big-match experience rescued him again, helped in no small measure by the roaring flag-waving faithful on John Cain Arena who have down the years witnessed some of the most memorable moments of their hero’s career.
“I have been in so many big matches, and on that court in particular, two sets to love down, winning,” he said.
“I’ve just been through so much on the court, I just felt like I was an old savvy veteran who had experience over him.”