Smashed racquets. Balls hit behind the back and through the legs. Questionable drop shots, and unquestionably brilliant drop shots. 57 aces and 137 winners. People, in the stands, watching, cheering, booing, dancing, and screaming just for the fun of being able to scream at a sporting event again. One match point saved with a return on the baseline; another saved with a flick of the wrist and a sarcastic laugh. A post-midnight finish. Rage, lots of rage, against the (net-cord) machine.

By now, you probably have a pretty good idea of what went down late last night and early this morning at Melbourne Park. It was the return of the Nick Kyrgios show to John Cain Arena. Over the years, the Australian native has turned this court into his own personal theater of the absurd, and he didn’t disappoint his rowdy faithful fans on Wednesday. In his latest epic Down Under, Kyrgios came out on the winning end—by an inch—over France’s Ugo Humbert 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4, in three hours and 25 minutes.

“That was one of the craziest matches I’ve ever played,” Kyrgios said, over the shouts of the still-roaring audience, when it was over.

Of course, he has said the same thing about half a dozen or more of his matches in the past; it would be bigger news if he had played a sane and sober five-setter. But coming as it did after 13 months away from the game for Kyrgios, and a hard year of pandemic lockdown for the fans in Melbourne, this win had to be among the sweetest.

“I’m still kind of in awe of the atmosphere,” Kyrgios said in the interview room later. “Definitely the stadium didn’t feel half full, that’s for sure. It felt—the atmosphere was insane.”

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Major Takeaway: Kyrgios saves two match points to edge past Humbert

Major Takeaway: Kyrgios saves two match points to edge past Humbert

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Yet Kyrgios almost had the show stolen from under his racquet. It was the 22-year-old, 34th-ranked Humbert who owned the stage for much of this night. The lean lefty from Metz, France, showed off his timing and shotmaking skills by short-hopping Kyrgios’s deep shots and taking his short ones on the rise. Despite giving up three inches and 25 pounds to Kyrgios, Humbert bombed in nearly as many aces (27) as the Aussie, and hit 72 winners to Kyrgios’s 65.

Just as impressive was Humbert’s demeanor. He never let the crowd or his opponent’s theatrics distract him from the business at hand. Even as he watched his lead evaporate, and heard the audience cheer and jeer his first-serve faults, he never lost his look or walk of determination. Humbert kept his cool when everyone was losing their heads around him, and hopefully made a lot of new fans along the way.

In the end, though, he came up one point, and one inch, short.

Humbert served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set, and reached match point twice. On the first, Kyrgios hit a return right at Humbert’s feet; everyone in the stadium, including the two players, hesitated for a second as they waited for a possible out call. But the call never came, Instead, Kyrgios attacked the net, and Humbert’s backhand pass caught the tape.

On the second match point, Humbert pushed Kyrgios back, and approached the net with a slicing, side-spinning backhand. It looked, as it touched down halfway between the service line and the baseline, as if it was going to be a hard shot to handle. Not quite hard enough for Kyrgios, though; he flicked a backhand pass crosscourt that touched down an inch inside the sideline. When he saw it land, he flashed a smile of disbelief.

What was Kyrgios thinking in that moment? He said he imagined himself back at his Air BnB the next day, reading about his defeat, and taking “all the negativity in.” That was motivation enough.

“I was just like, ‘Dude, this could be one of the most memorable matches of your career, and you owe it to yourself,’” Kyrgios said.

Whether it was because of that pep talk or not, Kyrgios was suddenly locked in. After saving the second match point, he rifled a backhand return winner, and then broke serve with a forehand winner. He rode that momentum through the fifth set, taking the initiative in rallies and driving through his backhand with easy confidence. Humbert never caved, but Kyrgios, once he had his nose in front, never surrendered the lead. The fifth set, when he left his frustrations behind and let his shots do the entertaining, was among the best he’s ever played.

Major Takeaway: Kyrgios saves two match points to edge past Humbert

Major Takeaway: Kyrgios saves two match points to edge past Humbert

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Afterward, Kyrgios praised Humbert.

“He's a lefty. He”s got a good serve. He can hit all the flat spots. He can hit the wide on the deuce, T on the ad. Unbelievable backhand, good forehand, good volleys. He's a good competitor too,” Kyrgios said. “And he’s only young. He’s definitely one to watch out for. I think he’s going to be very good.”

Like Denis Shapovalov in his win over Jannik Sinner on Monday, the 26-year-old Kyrgios said he felt like his experience helped him.

“I was just trying to draw on—nothing felt new to me out there, to be honest, in that match,” Kyrgios said. “I felt like I had seen it all before, I had been through it.”

“I’m happy with just winning, man. Like at this stage in my career, I feel old. I just want to have a glass of red wine, man, after a match like that.”

Enjoy it, Nick, you earned it. But don’t overdo it. Dominic Thiem is up next for you. We’ll be expecting nothing less than another epic.

Major Takeaway: Kyrgios saves two match points to edge past Humbert

Major Takeaway: Kyrgios saves two match points to edge past Humbert