Match of the Day: Thiem digs deep to oust Kyrgios

  • Reem Abulleil

World No.3 Dominic Thiem pulled off a remarkable comeback to squeeze past home favourite Nick Kyrgios 4-6 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-4 in an entertaining third round clash at John Cain Arena on Friday.

SCORECARD: D Thiem d N Kyrgios

The 2020 Australian Open runner-up, who came back from two down to defeat Alexander Zverev in the US Open final last year, needed three hours and 21 minutes to overcome Kyrgios and reach the fourth round in Melbourne for a fourth time in five years.

“Since US Open I know that impossible is nothing,” Thiem told Jim Courier on court after his win.

The build-up

Thiem and Kyrgios could not have had more contrasting 2020s. While Thiem managed to claim a maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open last September and spent the tour’s hiatus playing a string of exhibition tournaments, Kyrgios did not contest a match after retiring from his opener in Acapulco in February.

The world No.47 stayed at home in Canberra for the rest of the year and is playing just his second event in 12 months this fortnight in Melbourne.

The pair also have contrasting personalities and different approaches to their profession but they both share one key attribute: on their best day, they can beat, and have beaten, the very best on tour.

Their sole previous meeting was an incomplete match in Nice back in 2015, when Kyrgios retired seven games into the clash.

Despite his lack of match play, Kyrgios was able to overcome one of the tour’s most improved players of 2020, French lefty Ugo Humbert, in a five-set second-round thriller on Wednesday.

Thiem, a runner-up at Melbourne Park last year, was tested by Mikhail Kukushkin in his first set of the fortnight but came through his opening two rounds in straight sets this week.

Kyrgios was expecting a physical battle with the relentless Austrian and said “it already hurts just thinking about it” after his second round win.

“Haven’t felt nerves like this in a long time,” Kyrgios posted on his Instagram three hours before the clash with Thiem.

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Nick Kyrgios was at his entertaining best but lost in five sets

Story of the match

Kyrgios was fired up from the get-go, and had the crowd on its feet a few minutes into the contest when he broke the Thiem serve in the first game of the match. He kept his advantage throughout the opening set, which he wrapped up on the 37-minute mark.

Some great net coverage helped Kyrgios create a break point in the ninth game of set two but a cleverly-disguised drop shot from Thiem got the third seed out of trouble. Still Kyrgios got the break on his third chance and kept celebrating with his fans while sitting at his bench during the changeover. In typical Kyrgios fashion, the 25-year-old secured a two-set lead with an underarm ace.

“The Greatest Showman,” said commentator Mark Petchey on the world feed. Indeed many of Kyrgios’ moves could have landed him a role on the Hugh Jackman-led blockbuster.  

An hour and a half into the match, Thiem finally managed to break the Kyrgios serve on his way to a 3-0 advantage in the third set. The 27-year-old bagged the set on another signature shot from Kyrgios, an attempted tweener that landed in the net.

Kyrgios saved two break points to hold in game one of the fourth. They were neck and neck throughout the set until a failed Kyrgios tweener proved costly as Thiem broke for a 5-4 lead. Things got worse for the Australian as he copped a point penalty that gifted Thiem a head-start in the next game. Thiem saved a break point and served out the set to force a deciding fifth.

More drama ensued when Kyrgios received a hindrance call against him but he still managed to hold after that for 3-2.

A punishing return from Thiem helped the Austrian break in game seven and it was all he needed to complete a memorable triumph.

Key stats

This is the fourth time Thiem has managed to rally back from two sets down in his career.

The Austrian struggled to find his first serve in the opening set, landing just 46 per cent of his first serves in. That stat improved considerably as the match went on, and in the third set, it went up to 75 per cent.

Thiem survived 25 aces from Kyrgios’ racquet but struck a whopping 57 winners of his own against just 28 unforced errors.

Kyrgios is now on an eight-match losing streak against top-five opposition at the slams. The Australian’s last top-five victory at a major was his breakthrough triumph over a top-ranked Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014.

What this means for Kyrgios

Losing from two-sets-to-love up is a tough pill to swallow, but Kyrgios must be pleased with how well he performed against players who have won titles and done particularly well on tour last year while he was out of action for 12 months.

He still has doubles with his friend and compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis and can feel positive about his form moving forward.

Kyrgios also won’t ranking lose points for not matching his fourth-round showing from last year in Melbourne, since the rankings are still being adjusted differently because of the pandemic.

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Kyrgios had the crowd in his hand all night

What’s next for Thiem

Thiem is bidding to become the seventh man in the Open era – and the 14th in history – to win a second Grand Slam title on his second Grand Slam appearance after winning his first major title.

He next takes on 18th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, who is a former Australian Open semifinalist. Thiem trails the Bulgarian 2-3 head-to-head but they’ve never squared off at a Grand Slam before.