MELBOURNE, Australia, Feb 11 – Novak Djokovic, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams are all in action Friday, but no one at Melbourne will be taking their eyes off showman Nick Kyrgios as the Australian Open enters the third round.
The temperamental Australian jolted this year’s sleepy Covid-affected Grand Slam awake with a “crazy” five-set win on Wednesday and now takes on US Open champion Dominic Thiem for a place in the last 16.
No other player gets a partisan Australian crowd more fired up than Kyrgios, especially on his favourite John Cain Arena, where he was egged on in ear-splitting fashion Wednesday night to save two match points in the fourth set against France’s 29th seed Ugo Humbert before completing a thrilling comeback.
Crowds had been disappointing at the Covid-delayed Open, now being staged outside of its customary slot in the summer holidays.
But Kyrgios had the court he owns every year rocking in a gladiatorial display against Humbert and will guarantee a Friday night carnival atmosphere as he takes on the world number three in the third-round clash on the same court.
“I don’t know how I did that. I am lost for words. That is one of the craziest matches I have ever played,” said the 25-year-old after the match.
In his 3hr 25min epic, the maverick smashed a racquet, served underarm, hit a “tweener” shot through his own legs, argued with the umpire, frequently applauded his opponent’s shots and slapped down 30 aces and 65 winners.
“Whatever happens against Thiem happens,” Kyrgios added. “I’m going to go out there, serve, play with instinct, and if it’s enough, it’s enough. If it isn’t, I’m all right with that.”
– Djokovic on the limit –
Eight-time champion Novak Djokovic faces 27th seed Taylor Fritz to round off the night action on the main Rod Laver Arena hoping for an easier ride than he had against another American, Frances Tiafoe, in the previous round.
“He pushed me to the very limit,” Djokovic said after Tiafoe took the world number one to four sets. “He’s a very quick player. I’m really glad to overcome such a battle.”
In action in the men’s draw earlier in the day will be sixth Alexander Zverev and eighth seed Diego Schwartzmann.
Germany’s Zverev continues his hunt for a maiden Grand Slam against France’s Adrian Mannarino on Rod Laver Arena while Argentina’s Schwartzmann faces Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev, who is making his Grand Slam debut, on John Cain Arena.
In the women’s draw, Williams will be the second match on Rod Laver as she carries on her bid to equal Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24 Grand Slams, while Osaka is seeking her second Australian Open title in three years.
Williams faces Russia’s unseeded Anastasia Potapova for a place in the last 16 while Osaka has a potentially tougher test on John Cain Arena against Tunisian Ons Jabeur, seeded 27, who reached the quarter-finals in Melbourne a year ago.
“I always felt, like, watching her that she’s a player that can do anything,” warned Osaka. “I always felt like she should be where she is now and even higher.”
Simona Halep, the second seed, came into the Australian Open with injury worries, but her sore back stood up during a massive second-round examination against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic.
Halep was on the brink of defeat at 5-2 down in the final set before reeling off five impeccable games to prevail in 2hr and 34min of attritional tennis.
The Romanian will rest her aching bones ahead of a clash to open the night session on Rod Laver Arena against Russia’s Veronika Kudermertova, the number 32 seed.
“I felt like my body and my back was cracking a little bit in the end, but I thought that I have enough time to recover until the next match,” Halep said.
Last year’s beaten finalist Garbine Muguruza of Spain, the 14th seed, is also in action against Kazakhstan’s unseeded Zarina Diyas in an afternoon match on Margaret Court Arena which later will host an all-Canada clash between 11th seed Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Rounding off the night session there will be French Open champion Iga Swiatek of Poland against unseeded Frenchwoman Fiona Ferro.