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Earned it: Karen Khachanov knocks out Nick Kyrgios in US Open heavyweight battle full of haymakers
The 26-year-old punched his ticket to a maiden major semifinal after edging the Aussie, 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-4, just before the clock struck 1 a.m. early Wednesday.
Published Sep 07, 2022
“I did it, guys, I did it,” Karen Khachanov told the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium after his 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-4 win over Nick Kyrgios on Tuesday night. The emphasis seemed to be on “I”—as in, he didn’t have a lot of help from the audience.
“Now you give me some love,” he said, as the fans who had rooted for Kyrgios all night offered the Russian a modest cheer for his efforts.
But what efforts they were. Khachanov survived one of the most draining tests in tennis, a prolonged skirmish with Kyrgios, his fans, his demons—and, last but not least, his game. Khachanov had been on the verge of victory late in the fourth set, only to see Kyrgios steal it away in a tiebreaker. But he had come right back and broken to start the fifth, and then survived four sometimes-precarious service games against a scrapping, desperate-to-win Kyrgios.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” said Khachanov, who lost to Kyrgios in a fifth-set tiebreaker in Australia two years ago. “I guess it’s the only way to beat Nick.”
As expected, the match was a heavyweight contest, with a haymaker thrown on just about every point. The two finished with 61 aces (31 for Kyrgios, 30 for Khachanov) and 138 winners (75 for Kyrgios, 63 for Khachanov). But this wasn’t a one-and-done slugfest. The longer the match went, the longer the rallies went as well. Kyrgios tested Khachanov’s nerves down the stretch by doing whatever he could to track every ball down, but Khachanov proved up to that test.
There were two moments in particular—and two lapses by Kyrgios—that turned out to be crucial in this three hour, 39 minute contest.
At 3-3 in the third set, Kyrgios hit a scorching forehand winner to reach break point, and raised his hands to ask for some (more) noise. After a flat start and an early knee issue, he seemed to be pulling away from Khachanov; this was his first show of positive emotion. But a minute later everything changed again. At break point, Kyrgios had a good look at a forehand, but overhit it long. He slammed his racquet to the court, screamed “Why?” at his team, and lost all of his momentum. Serving at 5-6, he made three unforced errors, was broken, and trailed two sets to one.
The second match-changing moment came in the first game of the fifth. Kyrgios had played an excellent fourth-set tiebreaker, and again it looked like he was going to pull away. Again, the opposite happened. He played a slightly casual game, trying a front-facing tweener, while Khachanov put the last set behind him and nailed a backhand pass. When Kyrgios netted a backhand, Khachanov had the only break he would need.
From there, Kyrgios had three chances to break back. Khachanov hit aces on two of them. On the third, Kyrgios tried a drop shot that ended up in the net; it was a moment he would surely love to have back. Otherwise, even with Kyrgios chasing down every ball, Khachanov didn’t waver. He won free points with his serve, didn’t miss ground strokes, and ended rallies with that trusty down-the-line backhand.
“From the beginning till the end, great performance,” Khachanov said. “I stayed there. I waited for my chances. I created them, as well. I’m super happy, super proud that I could finish the match, I could take it. Serving for the match, never easy.”
As for Kyrgios, he said it was win the title or bust.
“I’m obviously devastated,” Kyrgios said. “But all credit to Karen. He’s a fighter, he’s a warrior. He just played the big points well.”
“Just feel like it was either winning it all or nothing at all, to be honest,” said Kyrgios, who smashed one last racquet for the road. “I feel like I’ve just failed at this event right now. That’s what it feels like.”
You can’t say Khachanov, 26, didn’t earn his first trip to a Grand Slam semifinal.
“I just did it,” he told reporters, echoing what he had told the crowd a few minutes earlier. “I did the step forward. I made my first semifinal, so it’s pretty simple in my head. I’m just really happy.”