NEW YORK—If today’s 11 a.m. match on Court 17 is any indication of how this U.S. Open is going to play out, we’re all in for a wild ride. Nick Kyrgios won it, upending No. 21 seed Mikhail Youzhny in three hours and three minutes on the strength of two superbly played tiebreakers, 7-5, 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-6 (1).
It’s been a cool summer in New York, but the familiar, stifling heat of August has arrived just in time for the U.S. Open. Today, though, the most stifling element on Court 17 was Kyrgios’ big serve—the same serve that enables him to get out of trouble so often that he can grow a little cavalier when he has a lead.
Kyrgios had a break point in the very first game of the match, but the 32-year-old Youzhny held off the 19-year-old Wimbledon sensation in an eight-minute tug-of-war. Kyrgios fired his first ace on just his second first serve of the match, and another ace backed up by a service winner helped him close out a quick second game for 1-1.
The men then settled into a hold-hold pattern, and it was clear by the time we saw the next break point that this would be a struggle between a gifted, theatrical, explosive youngster and a veteran who knows every trick in the book. That next break point arrived with Youzhny serving at 5-all. An unreturnable serve got him out of that jam, but a double fault put him back into one.
In the ensuing rally, Youzhny tightened up and made a forehand error to give Kyrgios a 6-5 lead—with service. Kyrgios made the most of the chance, overcoming back-to-back double faults from 40-love to close out the set with a 116 M.P.H. kick serve that caught Youzhny off guard.
The second set began with a break for Kyrgios. Once again, a double fault following a successful break-point defense played a significant role in Youzhny’s demise. On his next break point, Kyrgios took a big cut at a second serve and drove a backhand winner down the line. He then fought off a couple of break points to consolidate with a hold. Moments later, it seemed, Kyrgios himself had break points for a double-break—representing a potential 4-1 lead—thanks largely to three consecutive double faults by Youzhny.
But Kyrgios, showing all the profligacy of a young man with a big weapon, let Youzhny off the hook. It almost cost him dearly, too, as Youzhny broke Kyrgios to put the set back on serve at 4-all.
Youzhny was doing a good job playing defender to Kyrgios’ aggressor; the Russian’s relentless retrieving and clever use of slice earned him three break points in the next game. But Kyrgios refused to crack. He dispatched the third of those break points with an inside-out forehand winner, and after a Youzhny rally error, Kyrgios smacked down a game-ending ace for 5-4.
That was the last good opportunity for either player before the tiebreaker, in which Kyrgios grabbed the first mini-break to lead 3-1. It’s tough to concede a point that early to a server like Kyrgios, and things went from bad to worse when Youzhny followed immediately with an errant cross-court backhand.
Kyrgios gave back one of the mini-breaks for 5-2, after which Youzhny held both of his serves. But it was too little, too late. Kyrgios closed it out convincingly with an ace and an unreturned serve to the forehand.
Of course, that was the point when Kyrgios ought to have pressed his foot down on Youzhny’s throat. But uninterrupted prosperity can bore a young man, and Kyrgios lost focus—and the next set, 6-2.
Youzhny broke in the first game of the fourth set; the sense that Kyrgios had started just hitting balls, with little apparent plan or purpose, began to emerge as a theme. By then, Kyrgios clearly was suffering from the pain in his left forearm (he’s a right-hander, but plays with a two-handed backhand), while Youzhny appeared to be struggling with pain in his neck and shoulders. Both men were serviced by attendants and soldiered on.
Thus, by the late stages of the fourth set, the match had become a bitter war of attrition. Youzhny clung to that early break, and he had a set point with Kyrgios serving to stay in it at 3-5. But the big serve once again came to Kyrgios’ aid; on the day, he had 26 aces.
Escaping with a hold, Kyrgios suddenly caught fire. Youzhny played a sloppy game when he served for the set, and was broken thanks to three egregious errors and a Kyrgios winner.
Kyrgios was not about to let this opportunity elude him. He played one of his strongest hold games of the match, and even though Youzhny held to reach the tiebreaker, the momentum was with Kyrgios.
Kyrgios won the first point with a service return error. Youzhny then hit a forehand out during a spirited rally, and gave up his next service point as well when Kyrgios took an approach as a half-volley at his own baseline—and lofted a sweet, winning lob. It was a shot that that testified to Kyrgios’ fetching combination of touch and power, assets that enabled him to turn the tables in the set in the blink of an eye, and then roll right through the final-set tiebreaker yielding but one point.
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