All teenage bluff and bluster, hip-hop music blaring through his headphones, Nick Kyrgios swaggered onto Rod Laver Arena like he owned the place.
Just over two hours later, he stood revealed, having been poked, prodded and humbled by one of the eminent players of his generation – Scotland’s Andy Murray – 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 6-3.
It wasn’t quite a lesson but more a reality check; for Kyrgios, for the host broadcaster, for the teenagers sporting sailor’s caps, for the celebrities from A to Z who filed into Melbourne Park to witness one of the more highly anticipated matches played in Australia for some time.
As always, we got the full Kyrgios – his trademark mix of self-sabotage and jaw-dropping talent. But for all the pyrotechnics of the past week, he seemed a little flat in the opener.
The boozy, festive atmosphere of Hisense Arena was tailor-made for the Canberran. The more well-heeled, silver-tailed corporate crowd at Rod Laver was never going to generate the same heat. In the sixth game of the first set, he hit a sloppy forehand to go down a break.
Murray, no stranger to the swagger himself and certainly no stranger to stratospheric public expectation, was completely in control, serving it out to win 6-3.
If there was solace for Kyrgios fans, it was in the knowledge that he is a notoriously sluggish starter. The odd wobbly, whack of the racket and a few choice words to himself usually does the trick. And indeed, he started to get to more balls in the second set, started to throw in a few deft drop shots and started to charge the net with purpose.
Murray, mind you, was spanking forehand winners for fun, moving like a cat and well ahead on all key statistical indicators. Kyrgios had his chances in the tiebreak, but consecutive muffed backhands, coupled with some sublime defensive lobs from the Scot, hurt him badly. The upshot – a 7-5 loss in the tiebreak, a smashed racket and a lot of what-ifs.
When the Australian coughed up a 40-15 lead in the sixth game of the following set to give Murray the break, all looked lost. But he promptly broke back. Some loose Kyrgios groundstrokes and some defensive scrambling from the Scot would prove telling however, and he eventually rounded things out with the most casual of forehands – one of 48 winners for the match.
For all the hype surrounding Kyrgios; all the cautionary opinion articles, the open letters, the countdown clocks and the interviews with everyone from his hairdresser to his Grade 1 Art teacher, there was another half-decent player plying his trade out there.
A lot has changed since Andy Murray won Wimbledon and Olympic gold. His former coach, possibly the most undemonstrative man to ever sit courtside, is no longer in his corner. His 2014 was scuppered by serious back problems. For a while, the prevailing view was that having climbed the mountain, he didn’t have anything more to prove.
But his recent form suggests otherwise. The manner in which he dismantled Marinko Matosevic – no Bjorn Borg himself, granted – didn’t bode well for Kyrgios. Nor did Murray’s overall record against Australians, 10-zip and just three dropped sets.
Tuesday night emphatically reaffirmed his big four credentials. Murray has rediscovered his serve, is moving better than ever and in a tournament where many of his main rivals have already slunk off to Tullamarine Airport, he must surely fancy his title chances.
He will play Tomas Berdych next, after the big Czech ended a 17-match losing streak against Rafael Nadal earlier on Tuesday.