Nick Kyrgios: Captivating On Court, Candid Off It

Nick Kyrgios (photo: Morgan Hancock/Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, February 10, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Mercurial Nick Kyrgios not only saved two match points during his second-round Australian Open battle against 29th seed Ugo Humbert, which he won 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4, Wednesday night. He battled for nearly three and one-half hours – gave it his all – and won the hearts and applause of the Aussie fans who filled John Cain Arena in Melbourne Park. Somehow, he kept surprising himself.

Between the young Humbert’s artful approach to the game and Kyrgios’ rapid-fire serving and returns, which produced 30 aces and 65 winners, there was plenty for the crowd to appreciate. After it was over, the two shared a heartfelt embrace at the net.

By the time Kyrgios began his press conference, it was 12:25 a.m. early Thursday, more than an hour after the completion of his victory, which advanced the Canberra native to face World No. 3 Dominic Thiem in Friday’s third round. However, Kyrgios was lucid in his thoughts – still a bit wound up – but on his best, polite behavior as he sat down to meet with the assembled media (both in person and virtually from around the world).

Kyrgios was asked if he remembered ever saving match point and going on to win at the Australian Open. “No, I don’t think I have ever saved match points before at the Australian Open,” he said. “I have had match points and lost.

“But, yeah, that match was – it was a crazy one. I have been a part of a lot of matches, and that one has been definitely one of the most memorable ones. But I’m still kind of in awe about the atmosphere. … The atmosphere was insane.”

Asked what he thought was the key to turning the match around, Kyrgios shook his head. “I’d like to have an answer for that one, but I really don’t, to be honest,” he said. “Honestly, I felt like I didn’t have anything against him. Like, in the fourth and fifth sets, I mean. I thought he was playing better from the ground.. I was maybe serving a little bit better. But the only thing I really had on [Ugo] today was experience.

“I have been in so many big matches and on that court in particular, two sets to love down, winning. You know, 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. He’s a young guy. I don’t think he’s been in too many five-set matches in Australia with that kind of crowd against him.

“So, I was just trying to draw from experience, trying to make him play as much as I could, and then I somehow got out of jail today. Honestly, it’s surreal, almost.”

Hsieh Su-Wei: A funny storyteller

When 68th-ranked Hsieh Su-Wei ousted No. 8 seed Bianca Andreescu 6-3, 6-2 on Wednesday afternoon to advance to the third round of the Australian Open, it marked the eighth time in 10 matches against Top 10 opponents she’s been victorious.

Hsieh, 35, from Taiwan, was recently described as “the Rubik’s Cube of opponents, a Grand Slam seed slayer.” Certainly, Andreescu was at a complete loss how solve the puzzle that was Hsieh, who broke the Canadian’s serve six times. Hsieh’s unorthodox playing style has been widely admired and praised.

One thing that many may not realize about the polite, soft-spoken Hsieh, who also is one of the top-ranked doubles players in the world, is that she’s a funny storyteller.

When Hsieh was asked during her post-match press conference by a reporter what in particular with Melbourne that it’s become “such a happy hunting ground” for her. She quipped:

“I have to say I quite enjoy to practice here. I have a few years I was coming here for my off-season and training with Paul McNamee and for me, I know where to go to eat after the match. I know I go to the Thai restaurant. I have very good appetizers and very good drinks. So, I definitely know how to enjoy life and play some tennis here. So, I’m not worried about my tennis. If I don’t play good, I go enjoy some good food here. So, I’m quite happy to have the tennis life here.”

Tennis TourTalk asked Hsieh, who turned professional in 2001, if she’s having as much fun on court now as when she first started. Again, she told a story:

“Yeah, it was not very easy at the beginning to enjoy the tennis because, you know, when we’re young and then we come from a small place, you don’t have the people guide you to how to set out your schedule, your practice, and how to enjoy it, to thinking it’s not just about tennis.

“There a life also very important. In the first 10 years, I was stay mostly in the hotel room and tennis court, like a quarantine. So, after I work with Paul [McNamee], we enjoy a lot of court as well. We go to shopping together and we find a nice restaurant and the result is going very good. So, I try to find a nice restaurant to go together to enjoy something, not just tennis.”

What they’re saying in the interview room

Alex de Minaur on whether advancing to the second round of the Australian Open motivates him:

“I think it definitely does. I mean, look, tennis is an individual sport, but I truly believe what we’re doing in Australia, especially in tennis, all the players we’ve got, we’ve got so many knocking on the door and so many in the top hundred, so I think we’re in a great spot, and it definitely does motivate me because I know that we’ve got all these teammates pushing top players. It’s amazing to see. We’ve got Chris O’Connell beating his first top 40 or 50 opponent in Jan-Lennard Struff, he played an unbelievable ATP Cup. We’ve got [Alexi] Popyrin, who just beat [David] Goffin. I mean, I think it’s truly exciting. It’s exciting times, and it’s amazing. Us Aussies, we always seem to play really well here in Australia. Now it’s time to kind of hopefully take this momentum with us and go conquer the world.”

Andrey Rublev on the difference between playing best-of-3 and best-of-5 formats:

“I like to play best-of-five. For me it’s easier to transfer from best-of-three to best-of-five then, for example, to go straight after the Grand Slam to play normal ATP tournament, this is a little bit tougher because you feel like have you less time, everything goes so fast because you start to get used to the format, best-of-five. So, for me to start to play best-of-five is easier because I feel like I have more time, so I normally even if something goes wrong, I still have enough time to come back and to turn to my side the match. In general, yeah, because of the ATP Cup, so I adapt to the courts really fast, so I’m already here feeling good.”

Aryna Sabalenka on her mindset at the Australian Open:

“I’m really lucky that I lost that match against [Kaia] Kanepi (last week at the Gippsland Trophy). I shouldn’t say that, but it was a really good lesson. It was even better to lose that one and kind of switch off, understand that you have to work, everything can happen.”

Belinda Bencic, on how long will it take before she feels her game is back to normal:

“It depends. I don’t think you can say how many games. If you’re doing a good preparation, then you come here and you keep preparing, of course you feel much better than if it’s interrupted like this.

“I don’t know how many games it will take me. It’s hard to say. It’s hard to practice here, as well.

“You don’t get as much court time as you would like. At home I practice for four or five hours a day, which here it’s not possible. …

“I will just accept the fact whatever time it will take. I just have to take this time and just accept it. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll just try to do the best to keep improving.”

Coco Gauff on working with Patrick Mouratoglou:

“He definitely gives me a lot of advice. He’s giving more advice to my dad to tell me so there’s not so much voices in my head, I guess, because everybody has an opinion, and everybody wants to help, but it’s not good to have too many people to listen to. Most of the stuff goes through my dad, but obviously he tells me some things directly, too. But it’s good to have someone that’s – I mean, even my dad, he’s a great coach, but he’s still learning, as well. I’m his only player he’s ever worked with. Patrick has a little more coaching experience than my dad, so it’s good to have an outsider kind of tell you what you need to work on.”

Daniil Medvedev, in the midst of a 15-match winning streak (Paris Masters, ATP Finals, ATP Cup, Australian Open) on whether he feels he’s a favorite to win the Australian Open:

“Me, I just try to win matches. Yeah, I get asked this question a lot, so if people consider me as a favorite, it’s actually a good job because I worked all my life to be one of the, let’s say, top players in the world. So, I’m happy that I’m part of them right now. But you know, you need to win seven matches. I just won one, so I need to win six more against very strong opponents, all of them, out of five sets – how many sets is it? That’s 18 sets more you need to win, which is a lot. It’s like nine three-set matches, so I’ll take it step by step.”

Francesca Jones, on what she’ll take away from her first Grand Slam main draw experience:

“I think … just being aware of, you know, the quick momentum changes at this level. I think, you know, there are a lot of positives, although my tone of voice might not be seeing it right now.

“You know, I’m going to sit down and watch the match with my coach when I’m slightly more objective, but I think overall I have proved that I can compete at this level, and I think now it’s about accumulating as many matches as possible over the next 12 months against players such as Shelby or even of a higher level.”

“My feet are very much on the ground. Back to reality for me, it’s been great here, but it’s all about working hard in the day to day, and, you know, as I said, my feet are very much on the ground, and I just want to get going with what happens next.”

By the numbers

Those players who were in the strict 14-day quarantine had a hard go of it in the first round. No. 12 seed Victoria Azarenka, No. 20 seed Maria Sakkari, No. 23 seed Angie Kerber and No. 24 seed Alison Riske all lost in the first round.

Meanwhile, Ann Li of the United States has been the exception to the rule. Li was in strict quarantine and has done nothing but win. Last week, she reached the semifinals of the Grampians Trophy and this week? She’s reached the third round after beating Alizé Cornet of France, 6-2, 7-6 (6). From two set points down, Li won the last four points on the second-set tiebreak to advance. Next, she faces No. 7 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

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