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'That's why I play the game': Kyrgios relishing Medvedev challenge

  • Dan Imhoff

It took just five minutes for Nick Kyrgios to opt for the seasoning and add a spicy twist to an already unorthodox tactic on Tuesday night.

While not averse to the underarm serve, the Australian had upped the theatrical stakes early when he sprung a tweener delivery.

MORE: Men's singles draw AO 2022

It caught out British qualifier Liam Broady and set an already expectant John Cain Arena crowd on fire.

Kyrgios was back on the court he has made his own, his first taste of competition since Laver Cup in September and since a bout of Covid-19 leading in.

A routine straight-sets triumph was just what he needed ahead of a showstopper second-round outing against US Open champion Daniil Medvedev.

Just what Kyrgios would bring to the table for that clash was anyone's guess, but against an opponent he deemed the man to beat at Australian Open 2022, he was well aware it was a marked step up.

Ever the entertainer: Kyrgios put on a show at the John Cain Arena

"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, I'm excited for that moment. That's why I play the game," Kyrgios said.

"I feel like those matches still excite me, to go out there and play the best in the world. That was always something I wanted to prove to people that someone like me could do, win those matches.

"I'm not going to go into it with a lot of expectation. I'm going to go out there, have some fun, play my game. I have a pretty set-in-stone game plan of what I need to do to have success."

Some rust was to be expected from Medvedev following an all-to-brief off-season and it came in an opening defeat to Frenchman Ugo Humbert at ATP Cup in Sydney.

The Russian rebounded with wins over Alex de Minaur, Matteo Berrettini and Felix Auger-Aliassime, as well as three doubles triumphs, before a relatively straightforward 6-1 6-4 7-6(3) opener against Swiss Henri Laaksonen on Rod Laver Arena.

There was undoubtedly more at stake for the world No.2 in the next round, the site of his second major final last year, and after a career-defining upset of Novak Djokovic for his maiden Grand Slam trophy in New York, the goal posts had shifted.

"After US Open, I kind of know that I'm capable of playing seven great matches in a row on the same court or same venue, beating the best players in the world, you know, serving good," Medvedev said. "Sometimes maybe playing worse but still capable to win matches, and that's the biggest confidence I can give myself is just knowing that it's possible."

Kyrgios owns wins in both prior meetings – on clay in Rome and in the Washington final on a hard court – but both came in 2019 before Medvedev had reached the first of his three Grand Slam finals.

"I just became a different player in terms of ranking and titles. It gives you experience," Medvedev said. "That's where you can try to win matches, which you have lost before, opponents which you have lost (against) before… I think our last match was so long ago and we are both so different and a different momentum of our careers that it's really tough to count it.

"As I say, win or lose, I don't think these two matches (are) gonna count into this one."

The Australian would not be alone in dishing up unexpected spicy twists against "The Octopus", an opponent so nicknamed for his ability to contort himself into all manner of positions on court.

But Medvedev knew to expect some added zest whenever Kyrgios whipped up his home fans.  

"It's definitely going to be not easy against the crowd," the Russian said. "He's going to try to pump himself up, like, he likes to play big names… If I'm going to be playing good it's not going to be easy for him."