There’s nothing in the world even close to watching Nick Kyrgios play on John Cain Arena.
In three-and-a-half engrossing, frenetic, and at times ridiculous hours, Kyrgios saved two match points, twice went ballistic at the net cord, and even called chair umpire Marijana Veljovic “bro”.
But in the end he posted arguably his most impressive win at the Australian Open, downing No. 29 seed Ugo Humbert in an incredible, see-sawing, five-set thriller, 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.
The arena, no more than half full due to the restrictions on attendances at the Open, was rocking with volume levels no different to years gone by. For a brief period of a few hours, the pandemic was all but forgotten as Kyrgios — in his castle — put on a show worthy of a king.
It didn’t all go his way, though. Early in the match, Kyrgios found himself frustrated and distracted by what seemed to be a faulty automatic net cord, which if the Australian is to be believed, seemingly robbed him and Humbert of a number of aces.
“Turn it off. [Umbert’s] serve missed by that much,” Kyrgios said to Veljovic in the first set, while gesturing a six-inch gap with his hands.
“It’s ruining the game. Do you understand it? You don’t understand it. It’s ruining the game. How do you understand it?
“Turn it off bro. It’s this high off the net. I’m not playing until you turn it off. Even on his serve it’s up this far. It’s not just my serve.”
Though threatening to play no further part in the match just one set into the contest, Kyrgios continued – but looked shaky and at times disinterested.
Humbert won the first set, but Kyrgios hit back quickly to take the second. The crowd was willing him into the match.
But the 22-year-old Frenchman wasn’t to be outdone; he began to comprehensively outplay Kyrgios, whose attention was waning. Humbert won the third set and was up a break in the fourth, and even the home favourite didn’t see a way out.
“I’m done, I’m f—ing done,” Kyrgios muttered after one point in the set.
But as Kyrgios seems to do at his favourite stadium, he found another level. With his back against the wall at 4-5 and Humbert serving for the match, the Australian peeled off an incredible return game during which Humbert faced two match points. Ironically, Kyrgios secured the break back to 5-5 by brushing the net cord with a forehand that landed just wide of Humbert’s outstretched arm.
Kyrgios afforded himself a smirk, and from then the crowd noise barely dipped below a dull roar. The broadcast cameras were shaking, with no way to settle on a workable shot from the ground level.
The John Cain monster had awoken.
In scenes which would have tennis purists reaching for the mute button, the crowd simply wouldn’t settle. There was animated chatter between first and second serves, Humbert’s faults were being applauded and the chair umpire was forced to intervene on a constant basis.
Kyrgios was lapping it up. It’s what makes the arena such a difficult place for his opponents to play. It’s an unmoderated experience to the point where even Kyrgios was getting away with a few expletives within earshot of chair umpire Veljovic.
Kyrgios held his serve, as did Humbert, and then the Australian played one of the great tiebreaks of his career to level the match at two sets apiece.
From there, Kyrgios wasn’t going to lose. Not with the wave of momentum the crowd was providing. Not since last year’s tournament in Melbourne had tennis seen — or heard — such a noise.
He broke Humbert early and held serve throughout the set, falling to his knees after securing the remarkable victory.
“If you were in my head, I was just thinking about all the shit I was going to cop if I lost that match,” Kyrgios said post-match. “I am lost for words, it’s one of the craziest matches I’ve ever played.”
Kyrgios will face last year’s Australian Open finalist and reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem in the third round on Friday.