Nick Kyrgios revealed that fear drove him to a stunning fightback against Ugo Humbert as he saved two match points to survive an early Australian Open exit.
Kyrgios, the world No. 47 from Canberra, looked set for a second-round defeat to the French 29th seed but dug deep to beat his 22-year-old opponent 5-7 6-4 3-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 and book a third-round clash with world No. 3 Dominic Thiem.
As ever, there were fireworks on court an ongoing row with chair umpire Marijana Veljovic over a faulty let cord machine punctuated the five-set thriller, while Kyrgios brought his usual bag of tricks, but his press conferences remain some of the most insightful and interesting in sport.
This one was no different. The 25-year-old, who described himself as a ‘old savvy veteran’ felt his experience counted in turning the match around, but confessed he was ‘afraid’ of suffering defeat.
In his on-court interview he’d admitted to having ‘dark thoughts’ during the match and he was asked to expand on them after the five-set scrap.
‘Well, as you know, the media doesn’t hold back on me,’ said Kyrgios. ‘You know, I was definitely thinking about – I felt like there was a lot of expectation on me, not playing for a year and coming back.
‘You know, I wasn’t expecting too much of myself, but of course when I’m match point down second-round exit, I was almost afraid.
‘I was afraid to come into this room, you know, go to my Airbnb and just read about it and take it all in, take all the negativity in that I have already taken. It’s not easy to come back and try and put it all behind.
‘That’s what I was thinking about. I was just, like, my back’s up against the wall and I just – I don’t know. I don’t know how I got out of it. Yeah, it was insane. Yeah, I don’t know how I would have reacted to negativity this year, you know. I don’t know.’
He added: ‘I just know that every tennis player deals with negative stuff. I’m not trying to play a victim here, but I don’t live under a rock. I know I caught a lot of flack for everything I do.
‘Sometimes I don’t read it, but, like, it’s not hard to miss when I wake up and go to Instagram and it’s just subconsciously there. My mind is taking it all in.
‘I mean, it’s not easy to just put it behind you. I have been dealing with it – I started dealing with this when I was 17, 18. I was like a child then. Do you know what I mean? I know now I try and block it out. I’m more mature and stuff, but it’s still not easy.
‘Like someone loses, another Aussie loses tonight, say, and they will be, like, Oh, great effort winning a first round. He really put his heart out.
‘But if I lose tonight, it’s an absolute – it’s a disaster. I remember one time I played five sets with Seppi and I lost from two sets to love up, and I got booed off the court. I just feel like it’s not so easy.’
Kyrgios admitted he feels ‘old’ at this stage in his career and ‘just wants to have a glass of red wine after a match like that’ but it was that match experience that he believes saw him through against the talented Humbert.
‘Honestly, I felt like I didn’t have anything against him,’ said Kyrgios. ‘Like, in the fourth and fifth set, I mean, I thought he was playing better from the ground. I was maybe serving a little bit better. But the only thing I really had on him today was experience.
‘I have been in so many big matches, and on that court in particular, two sets to love down, winning. You know, I’ve just been through so much on the court, I just felt like I was an old savvy veteran who had experience over him.
‘He’s a young guy. I don’t think he’s been in too many five-set matches in Australia with that kind of crowd against him.
‘So I was just trying to draw from experience, trying to make him play as much as I could, and then I somehow got out of jail today. Honestly, it’s surreal, almost.’
Thiem will provide a stern test for Kyrgios next. The world No. 3 is the reigning US Open champion and reached the final at Melbourne Park a year ago.
‘He’s probably one of the most physical guys on tour,’ said Kyrgios of his third-round opponent.
‘He’s an extremely good player. He’s definitely – I have actually seen him progress. He’s a bit older than I am. I actually saw him in juniors and then I saw him struggle for a couple years, futures, challies, and then to see him get to the top of the game. It’s been actually pretty cool to see him develop and finally find what he needs to do to win matches.
‘He trains like an absolute animal. He’s consistent every day. And I actually have a lot of respect for him. I think his style of tennis is not easy to play. He’s super physical. But I’m not even thinking about it. Like, I’m just hurting thinking about playing him right now.
‘Whatever happens against Thiem happens. I’m going to go out there, serve, play with instinct, and if it’s enough, it’s enough. If it isn’t, I’m all right with that.’
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