Dominic Thiem came out on top in an explosive and hugely entertaining third-round clash with Nick Kyrgios at the Australian Open which went to five thrilling sets.
Kyrgios roared out of the blocks with a break of serve in the opening game to immediately put the third seed under immense pressure in front of a typically boisterous crowd on John Cain Arena.
The 24-year-old went for his shots in characteristic fashion with enormous groundstrokes and bravado to match as Thiem was peppered with underarm serves, trick shots and unpredictable antics.
The mercurial Australian delighted the Melbourne fans from the outset with a stunning array of gung-ho shots and pantomime reactions, with the 2020 US Open champion left totally stunned in a first set that always felt set to go against him.
Eurosport expert Jo Durie noted on commentary that Thiem was left “completely lost” by Kyrgios’s wild but inspired play early on, and he continued to frustrate his opponent with showmanship and showboating.
At one point, the unseeded Australian followed a successful underarm serve with a fake that was blasted away for a winner by Thiem; then soon after left the crowd in raptures as he not only won the second set in style, but with an underarm ace.
Chris Bradnam, on commentary for Eurosport, declared breathlessly, “It’s happened!”, when Thiem was unable to respond to the underarm serve that left him rooted to the spot, and noted that Thiem had “a mountain to climb.”
But to Thiem’s credit, he duly climbed that mountain, with the crowd very much against him.
Kyrgios struggled to sustain his level as the Austrian roared back in the third and fourth sets. While Thiem belatedly discovered his rhythm and feel in the match, the 25-year-old began to wilt, no doubt affected by the fact that he played another five-setter in the previous round.
The fiery Australian struggled to contain his frustrations in a dramatic final set as tensions mounted, while the noticeably fresher Thiem managed to keep his composure and close out victory under enormous pressure.
Kyrgios was given a huge ovation from the Melbourne fans as he departed the tournament having given absolutely everything and produced an inspired effort despite missing a year of action in the sport.
Thiem will next take on 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov, a semi-finalist at Melbourne Park back in 2017, in the fourth round after the Bulgarian defeated 15th seed Pablo Carreno Busta in their encounter.
In what was one of the final matches with fans present before a five-day absence due to local Covid-19 measures, the spectators at least got to witness what Eurosport’s Barbara Schett hailed as, “the match of the tournament so far.”