Rising Australian star Nick Kyrgios has produced the performance of his life to knock his boyhood idol, world No.2 Roger Federer, out of the Madrid Open.
In a win the 20-year-old said surpassed that of his Wimbledon victory over Rafael Nadal last year, world No.35 Kyrgios triumphed 6-7 (2-7) 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (14-12) over the top seed on Wednesday night (Thursday morning AEST).
“I think this is definitely the greatest win over my career so far,” Kyrgios, who saved three match points, said.
“It doesn’t really feel real at the moment.
“I didn’t really feel as if I was playing out there – it almost felt like I was watching.
“It was similar to that match at Wimbledon when I played Rafa. It’s a strange feeling. It hasn’t happened many times in my career … it’s happened twice now. It’s pretty exciting.”
To clinch the win, Kyrgios needed to overcome an expletive-laden first-set meltdown, in which he was given a code for unsportsmanlike conduct in the first set tiebreak, saying “get him out of here” to chair umpire Mo Lahyani in reference to a line umpire following an incorrect call.
Commentators were then forced to apologise multiple times for Kyrgios’ foul language, and the outburst, which also involved him smashing his racquet into the clay court, didn’t help the volatile star as he fell apart to lose the tiebreak 7-2.
In response to a Kyrgios barb, Lahyani told the fired-up right-hander to “stop complaining”.
However, he calmed himself before rallying from a break down in the second set to force another tiebreak – and this time it was Federer who began to feel the heat.
As Kyrgios reeled off a string of impressive winners and powerful serves to race to a 5-0 lead in the tiebreak, the normally unflappable Federer barked “we need a clown for this circus” at a change of ends.
When asked if he had been intimidated coming up against his idol for the first time, Kyrgios replied: “I know he’s the greatest.
“I knew before the match I had to play one of the greatest matches I’ve ever played.
“(But) I wasn’t intimidated at all – I have a lot of respect for him.”
Showing the same confidence and audacity which helped him prevail over Nadal last year, Kyrgios produced some unbelievable tennis in the third-set tiebreak, saving three match points before raising his arms in triumph on his sixth match point, when Federer sent a forehand cross-court wide.
“He plays the big points well and he likes the big stage,” said Federer.
“He has nothing to lose and if he can string a few good shots together that will keep him in a match.”
There were no surprises, he said: “I expected it to be difficult. I know Nick can play.”
Kyrgios will next face 16th seed John Isner for a shot at the quarter-finals.
Earlier, Rafael Nadal returned to his claycourt comfort zone, starting his campaign for a fifth Madrid Open title with a 6-4 6-3 defeat of Steve Johnson.
The victory in 74 minutes lifted Nadal’s clay record over Americans to a perfect 10-0 while the third seed improved to 12-3 on the surface this season.
The nine-time French Open champion has four Madrid titles and has played in six finals at his showcase home event.
He is aiming to extend his streak of winning at least one European ATP clay title leading into Roland Garros to 11 straight years.
Nadal goes on to face Italy’s Simone Bolelli for a quarter-final spot.
He was joined in the third round by sixth seed Tomas Berdych, who accounted for weekend Estoril winner Richard Gasquet 7-6 (7-3) 7-5.
Spanish seventh seed David Ferrer beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-4 6-0 and Madrid’s Fernando Verdasco knocked out US Open champion Marin Cilic 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-5) 6-3.
Bulgarian tenth seed Grigor Dimitrov came back to beat Italian Fabio Fognini 3-6 6-2 7-5 while No.12 Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat American Jack Sock 6-3 1-6 7-6 (7-4).
John Isner, the 16th seed, fired 23 aces to defeat Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (11-13) 6-1.