He’s only 25, but Nick Kyrgios says he already feels like a golden-ager.
“I feel old,” Kyrgios confided after his 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 ousting of Portuguese qualifier Frederico Ferreira Silva in his Melbourne Park opener. “This sport has stressed me out. I feel like an old soul.”
The enigmatic Aussie looked youthful enough against Ferreira Silva on Monday. Despite playing just nine matches in 2020, opting out of both Roland Garros and the US Open amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Kyrgios shook off some rust to smack 14 aces and win 84 per cent of his first-serve points (46/55). Along the way, he clocked service holds of 46 and 52 seconds. However, Kyrgios says the effort didn’t come without some early-season jitters. Sure, he’d won a pair of matches at the lead-up Murray River Open, but this was a whole different level.
“I haven’t been nervous like that for a tennis match in a long time,” said Kyrgios, No. 47 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. “Not competing for a while at a Grand Slam level, I was doubting my confidence a little bit.
“I’m extremely lucky to even be in my position,” said Kyrgios, who reached a career-high No. 13 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in October 2016. “I’m taking every day as a blessing at the moment. I’m healthy. I have great friends, great family, an amazing girlfriend back home. I’m blessed. I’m a wise man now.”
Kyrgios, who’ll next face tricky 29th-seed Ugo Humbert of France, is one of four Australian men who have their work cut out for them on Day 3 in Melbourne. Wild card Alex Bolt meets 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov; James Duckworth takes on 20th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime; and qualifier Bernard Tomic goes up against 11th seed Denis Shapovalov, who is coming off an impressive 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 triumph over Great Ocean Road Open titlist Jannik Sinner.
“He’s one of the most improved players on Tour,” said Kyrgios of the 22-year-old Humbert, who last year claimed his first two ATP titles in Auckland and Antwerp. “He’s found his form. He’s a good player. I played him in Acapulco. I wasn’t near 100 per cent [Kyrgios retired with a wrist injury], but I could sense he was a young up-and-comer. To be seeded at a Slam, you’ve got to put a pretty good year together.”
As someone who loves the big stage, Kyrgios has extra incentive to win Wednesday. Victory would set a likely prime-time showdown with third seed and 2020 finalist Dominic Thiem in the third round.
Two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic will be the marquee attraction in Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday. The Serb, seeking a record-extending ninth Australian Open trophy, is poised for a first-time matchup with 64th-ranked American Frances Tiafoe. If his form in his first-round, 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 victory Jeremy Chardy is any indication, the 17-time major titlist is finding his zone.
Asked if it’s possible to summon that level match in, match out, Djokovic likened it to “muscle memory”.
“I think every time you experience something, it’s there,” he explained. “It’s up to you whether you are able to bring it out from the box again in the next encounter. But each day brings something new, and it’s not always possible to feel aligned, in the zone every single match.”
Third seed Thiem will also take the court on Wednesday. The 2020 US Open champion will meet 70th-ranked left-hander Dominik Koepfer of Germany. The new-look Alexander Zverev, seeded sixth, shed his sleeves for a 6-7(10), 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-2 victory over one-time collegiate star Marcos Giron in the opening round, setting the stage for a Day 3 clash with another former UCLA standout, qualifier Maxime Cressy.
It will feel like old times when No. 27 seed Taylor Fritz faces longtime junior foe Reilly Opelka. Fritz boasts a 3-1 ATP Head2Head advantage in tour-level encounters between the Americans, including a 7-6(5), 6-1, first-round victory last year in Antwerp.
Elsewhere, it’s eighth seed Diego Schwartzman vs. lucky loser Alexandre Muller; No. 14 seed Milos Raonic vs. Corentin Moutet; 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka vs. Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics; and Jiri Vesely vs. No. 15 seed Pablo Carreno Busta.