Nick Kyrgios stared across the net at Roger Federer as he walked to the sideline. The two players were changing sides at 9-9 in the first-set tiebreaker, but a few seconds earlier Kyrgios had assumed he would be walking off the court a 10-8 winner. He had just dropped a 130-plus-m.p.h. bomb serve to Federer’s backhand side; in Kyrgios’ experience, that’s usually more than enough to earn him a point. Not this time; not against Federer at 8-9 in a tiebreaker.
Federer stuck out his racquet and blocked the ball back. A fair number of other guys in that situation could have done the same. But what they couldn’t have done was put the ball in the most difficult spot possible for their opponent. Federer sent his return skidding short, low and at an extreme crosscourt angle. Instead of winning the set, Kyrgios found himself hustling past the doubles alley just to stay in the point. But he wasn’t in it for long. With the rest of the court wide open, Federer flicked another backhand up the line for a winner. Kyrgios, like many other spectators watching Federer over the last 15 years, could only stare in disbelief.
If one point can sum up a 7-6 (9), 6-7 (9), 7-6 (5), three-hour-and-10-minute match, it was that one. Over the course of a Miami evening that was equal parts tense and raucous, the 21-year-old Kyrgios and the 35-year-old Federer put their very different styles and personalities up against each other, and from beginning to end there was almost nothing to separate them.
Kyrgios hammered 135-m.p.h first serves and 125-m.p.h. second serves. He worked Federer from side to side with his heavy topspin forehand. He volleyed well, passed well and mixed up his paces and positioning unpredictably but intelligently. He rattled Federer a few times with his own version of the SABR. And he made his second reverse-tweener crosscourt passing-shot winner of the tournament. Even after losing that first-set tiebreaker, 11-9, Kyrgios never went away or let his emotions get the best of him—not a for a single point.