Daniil Medvedev sealed his place in the third round of Australian Open 2022, fighting past a spirited Nick Kyrgios 7-6(1) 6-4 4-6 6-2 in a thrilling showdown that spanned two hours and 58 minutes on Thursday night at Rod Laver Arena.
Popcorn tennis anyone? Intrigue surrounded the blockbuster, with Kyrgios having never lost to the skilful Russian, clinching two tour-level wins in 2019 and victory six years earlier in the duo's only meeting as juniors. But Medvedev, 25, isn't the same player. The second seed had a remarkable 2021 season, notching a tour-leading 47 hard-court wins, including seven en route to a maiden major title at the US Open.
"[He's] somebody who can always play good," Medvedev said. "He's going to try to pump himself up … he likes to play big names."
A lack of matches in the four months between Laver Cup and the Australian Open could be a factor, warned Medvedev.
"The less he plays, the less favourite he becomes in such kind of matches," he said, prepared for Kyrgios' fans to insert themselves in the battle. "It's definitely going to be not easy against the crowd."
Canberra-born Kyrgios, sidelined from last week's Sydney International with Covid, said he relished the challenge.
"It's going to be a hell of an experience for me … he's probably 'the' best player in the world at the moment, so I'm pretty excited," said the 26-year-old.
"That's why I play the game."
How the match unfolded
A 192km/h ace off the Kyrgios racquet began proceedings, generating the first bout of thunderous applause from a capacity crowd. The popular Aussie garnered the battle's first two break point chances on Medvedev's serve, but couldn't convert.
The second seed, unhurried in long rallies, seized an early break chance of his own and consolidated for a 3-1 lead. Kyrgios avoided trailing by a double break, seeing off break point with an ace down the tee before delighting the crowd with his first underarm serve.
Tension climbed, creating an electric atmosphere as Kyrgios converted his fourth break point of the eighth game to level the set at 4-4. Reacting to an ecstatic crowd, the flashy right-hander pointed to the sky, the court, and beat his chest. Medvedev piled pressure back on Kyrgios, who saved yet another break point in the ninth game with an unreturnable serve and held to edge ahead for the first time in the encounter.
The pair marched into a tiebreak, but it was one-way traffic as Kyrgios donated his first double fault and Medvedev placed a trio of forehand winners, closing it out with a 7-1 scoreline.
In the second set, Kyrgios deployed the serve-and-volley with mixed success. Among the tour's greatest showmen and never one to deny a 'tweener opportunity, the passionate Australian hung tough against Medvedev, matching the Russian's combination of defensive and attacking deep groundstrokes blow for blow.
Kyrgios saved the set's first break point during a taxing 10-minute long eighth game, prompting the Rod Laver Arena crowd to leap to their feet as their pick survived. Serving to stay in the set at 4-5, another Kyrgios double fault handed Medvedev two set points.
The nimble world No. 2 made the second count, snaring a two-sets-to-love lead as Kyrgios sailed a backhand long.
As the entertainment ensued, both competitors refused to blink early in the third, giving up a combined five points on serve in the first six games.
A reflex volley from Kyrgios set up two break points, and on the second, he rifled a forehand winner down the line, breaking the stalemate for a 4-3 lead, earning a standing ovation.
The Australian's fans again erupted as the world No. 115 guided a drop shot over the net to claim the third set 6-4.
Leaning into a potential momentum swing, Kyrgios earned break point in the opening game of the fourth but prematurely ended a 15-stroke rally with a shanked forehand, eking out a groan from his supporters. In the sixth game, Medvedev was duly rewarded with a 4-2 lead after guiding a backhand winner down the line to secure a crucial break point. "The crowd goes mild," joked commentator and former pro Jim Courier.
Medvedev held, then earned a pair of match points moments later as Kyrgios served to stay in the match. The Moscow-born favourite only needed the first, claiming victory as the Australian sprayed a forehand wide.
"I felt like I was returning really well today and yet to break him, it was really tough," said the second seed, acknowledging that experienced gained in the three years since last battling Kyrgios served him well.
"A lot more bigger matches played," observed Medvedev, adding that he "was still on the come-up" when the two previously tussled.
"That helped me tonight, to just put one shot more, one return more."
The key stat
Medvedev blasted 68 winners, including 31 aces, compared to Kyrgios' 47 winners and 17 aces, respectively.
"I came to win this match and I'm happy that I managed to do it," said Medvedev. "It was a fighting match, we both served big," he added. "These matches can get tight."
What it means for Kyrgios
The talented Australian said he's scheduled to play singles at next month's Dallas Open. But first, the men's doubles competition continues on Friday for Kyrgios and countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis, as the wildcard pairing meet top seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic.
What's next for Medvedev?
The Russian will take on world No. 57 Botic van de Zandschulp, who advanced after French veteran Richard Gasquet retired earlier on Thursday, in the round of 32.
Medvedev defeated the Dutchman in four sets during the quarterfinals of last year's US Open.