Thursday was not a night for the romantics at Melbourne Park.
Nick Kyrgios, ranked 115 and the great entertainer, is gone from this year’s Australian Open, his conqueror the tournament favourite Daniil Medvedev in a surprisingly tight encounter ending at 10.15pm on Rod Laver Arena.
It was a truculent finale but with Medvedev, and not the fiery Aussie, at the heart of controversy.
“How did you stay calm?” asked on-court interviewer Jim Courier minutes after the match ended.
“That’s the only choice when you are booed between first and second serves,” a deeply irritated Medvedev replied.
“I can’t hear, Medvedev continued. “Show some respect (for former champion Courier). He won here.”
At which point Courier tried to explain that the crowd were shouting ‘Siu’, the popular Cristiano Ronaldo football celebration chant, and not booing Medvedev but it was unclear what was what.
Ill tempered, Medvedev finished the chat and stormed off after a 7-6 6-4 4-6 6-2 victory.
Regardless, it was a top night.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 20, 2022
As the match teed off, down in Garden Square at Melbourne Park, it was as if the tournament proper had begun. The sun shone, the air was warm and all deckchairs were in use facing the giant screen that overhangs the entrance to Melbourne Park.
The fans though were no longer watching Nick Kyrgios on his favoured John Cain Arena, wider popularity and corporate demand had this time placed him on RLA.
The key to a home victory was speed, short and sharp points the only way to save the legs and lack of match practice.
Just 11 matches all up in the past two years for Nick and anything of length would not end well we thought.
Remarkably – and the remarkable is routine with Kyrgios – the first set went to a tiebreak.
Happy to win tonight. Nick is an incredibly tough opponent that is obviously capable of beating the best in the world. Happy with my level tonight in this entertaining atmosphere. On to the next round. pic.twitter.com/xsqoZjUF9L
— Daniil Medvedev (@DaniilMedwed) January 20, 2022
Kyrgios had invested heavily in set one, and to lose it 7-1 after 62 minutes will have proved disheartening physically and emotionally for almost anyone else but the Aussie fought on.
When Kyrgios hit long to give Medvedev the second set, there was no noise to highlight the moment. It was a silence that spoke volumes.
Remarkably again, Kyrgios then broke Medvedev in the seventh game of the third set with one reactive, and victorious, net volley causing him to run around the perimeter of his end of the court in a soccer-style celebration.
The set fell his way 6-4, the energy of the crowd his bedrock.
It was not to last as rankings and match fitness prevailed, Medvedev home and hosed in four sets.
Afterwards, Kyrgios said how proud he was of his performance.
“I will always live for matches like this. I think if I play 95 per cent of people on this court I think I will win,” he said.
“I don’t know what I’ll be doing in a year’s time,” he said when asked about the future. “I live in the moment.”
When questioned about the rowdy crowd, he called for better control by the umpire to ensure fairness to both players, albeit with a caveat.
“It’s about time people embraced a different energy in the sport, otherwise it will die out.”
Stosur goes out on a high
As one Aussie legend fell, so did another earlier in the day, although this time for good.
On the Melbourne courts where she has tried her best always, if not always reaching her potential over the past 20 years, Australia’s Sam Stosur finally called time on her singles career.
The result aside – a two-set loss to the 10th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – it was all so perfect.
The new sunken bowl that is the Kia Arena was a fitting last resting place, the Russian the perfect opponent (they have met 10 times now with five wins apiece).
We all knew it was coming, everyone with a camera, including the pros, focused on Sam as the court filled to near capacity.
At the break at 5-2 down in the final set, seven wholly yellow and green, sombrero-hatted fans slowly made their way down to the front row. Not quite the Grim Reaper but the end was in sight and one game later it was done.
The players embraced, to hell with COVID, before Sam grabbed a seat on the sidelines.
2011 US Open singles champion
20 years of #AusOpen memories.
69 Grand Slam appearances.
A career high ranking of world No.4
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 20, 2022
Pav, to her credit, wasn’t having any of the usual conventions and turned the on-court winner’s interview into an ode to Sam.
“I had goosebumps as people were clapping for Sam on match point,” Pav said. “She is a wonderful human being and an amazing tennis player.”
Sam’s family then took to the front row before a video message on the giant screen with Victoria Azarenka, Simona Halep, Jordan Thompson and Jim Courier paying tribute.
As the video played, from the tunnel connecting the court to the locker rooms, bearing flowers, appeared tournament director Craig Tiley, a man who has kept the lowest of public profiles these past few days.
There were faint boos, but Tiley has always done everything for the AO players (indeed, an intuitive resolve to help out Novak Djokovic that possibly block out the wider picture in last week’s visa fracas).
“Thanks for being Sam Stosur and the difference you have made to our great game,” he told Stosur in a genuine and heartfelt touch.
Finally Pav left as Stosur’s family and crew, unmasked, came on court en masse for a photo shoot, No one was counting. She deserves our very best wishes.
Anything you’d change looking back at your career she was asked later.
“I’d love to go back and win the French Open (she unexpectedly lost the 2011 final),” she said. “But maybe losing that helped me win the US Open (four months later).”
Expect the unexpected
Plaudits also to Aussie Maddison Inglis and Chris O’Connell, with career-boosting wins propelling them into round three.
At much the same time as Kyrgios was bowing out, so too was another star of the sport, Britain’s Emma Raducanu.
While her opponent Danka Kovinic played steadily throughout, an upset was in the offing from early on when the teenage US Open champion Raducanu was forced to call the physio to deal with severe blisters on her racquet hand.
She was hampered but battled on as the Montenegrin, ranked 98, came home 6-3 in the third set at 10pm on Margaret Court Arena.
There was another late, and major, upset on John Cain Arena where Andy Murray, one of the titans of recent times at Melbourne Park with five finals between 2010 and 2016, was dumped out of the tournament in straight sets by 120-ranked Taro Daniel.
It was a deserved win for the Japanese journeyman.
Ash Barty back in prime time
Today becomes the Ash Barty Show again with the No.1 seed given a Friday evening slot as is defending champion Naomi Osaka, Barty’s likely foe in the next round and potentially the women’s match of the tournament.
Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev are the other big guns afforded prime evening viewing.