Nick’s night, now for Rafa

  • Dan Imhoff

Nick Kyrgios has set up a blockbuster fourth-round showdown with world No.1 Rafael Nadal at Australian Open 2020, overcoming Russian iron man Karen Khachanov in a five-set thriller on Saturday night.

Cruising with a two-set lead and a break in the third, Kyrgios looked comfortably on track to reach the second week at Melbourne Park for the third time.

But with the finish line nigh, the 23rd seed baulked, and his opponent stole the initiative to stay alive.

Match points went begging in the third and fourth-set tiebreaks before Kyrgios sent a packed Melbourne Arena crowd into frenzied celebrations with a 6-2 7-6(5) 6-7(6) 7-6(7) 7-6[10-8] victory.

“Man it was crazy. That was insane, I’ve got no words how I’m feeling right now,” Kyrgios said.

“None of that would have happened without my team, that’s for sure. You guys were unbelievable … 

“It’s emotional. I haven’t had a moment like that for four or five years since I last played here against [Andreas] Seppi. That’s definitely one of my best wins of my career, I think.”

MORE: All the results from Day 6 in Melbourne

A packed Melbourne Arena set the tone for the clash by collectively belting out ‘Sweet Caroline’ before the pair strode onto court.

They were prepared to be entertained and as the battle ensued, they were not left disappointed.

There was concern early when at 4-2 in the first set, Kyrgios started to grab for his upper left leg before calling the physiotherapist for treatment.

As with his second-round triumph over Frenchman Gilles Simon on the same arena, Kyrgios was working a boisterous home crowd, while having to juggle inadvertent distractions from his fans.

And as with his triumph over Simon, Kyrgios’s anxiety levels piqued with a two-set lead and a break in hand.

Again – somehow – he managed to regain composure. His third match point in the deciding match tiebreak came almost two hours after his first.

After four hours and 26 minutes – the longest match of Kyrgios’s career – he collapsed to the court in celebration when Khachanov’s final backhand sailed wide.

“This is just epic man, I don’t even know what’s going on. Honestly my legs feel about 40kg each,” Kyrgios said.

“I was losing it mentally a little bit. Obviously, wasn’t easy losing the third, and then losing the fourth, having those match points.

“But … my support team, you guys just willed me over the line. I thought I was going to lose, honestly.”

‘I was losing it mentally a little bit. Obviously, wasn’t easy losing the third, and then losing the fourth, having those match points’
Nick Kyrgios

Khachanov came within two points of a miraculous comeback in his bid to join compatriots Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev in the last 16. It would have been the first time in the Open era three Russians had reached as far at a major.

The 23-year-old had just played his second straight four-hour-plus epic, having edged past Swede Mikael Ymer in a match tiebreak in the second round.

“He’s an absolute warrior,” Kyrgios said. “He’s younger than me by a year and he’s going to have an unbelievable career, he already has.

“He’s going to do something special things. Man, two back-to-back, four hours is not easy.”

Khachanov came from the clouds, but fell agonisingly short

Next up comes a showdown with top seed Nadal on Monday, in what will be Kyrgios’ first outing at Rod Laver Arena this year.

Three times the Australian has triumphed over the more decorated Spaniard, with Nadal claiming their most recent encounter in the second round at Wimbledon last year.

“Whatever happens between us, he’s an amazing player,” Kyrgios said. 

“He’s arguably the greatest of all time … He’s a champion, so I’m going to do everything I can now and hopefully just give everything I have, and hopefully it’ll be enough.”