Aus Open: Nick Kyrgios raises the roof with epic comeback, Alexander Zverev, Simona Halep advance to third round


MELBOURNE: Nick Kyrgios lit up the Australian Open with a sensational comeback in the second round on Wednesday, saving two match points to beat Ugo Humbert 5-7 6-4 3-6 7-6(2) 6-4 in a febrile atmosphere on John Cain Arena. The volatile Australian rarely sticks around for the second week of his home major but his early round matches on his favourite court are guaranteed entertainment. 

Despite the restricted crowds and disappointing turnout over the first three days of a Grand Slam defined by the Covid-19 pandemic, Wednesday night proved to be one of the best. Roared on by a crowd making up in passion for what they lacked in numbers, Kyrgios scrapped his way back into the contest time and again to secure a third-round date with US Open champion Dominic Thiem.

He triggered bedlam when he dug deep to save the match points in the fourth set and then proceeded to dominate the tiebreak to send the match into a decider. There were also the extras that showman Kyrgios brings to the court — an underarm serve, some exquisite shot-making, a smashed racket and a running row with the umpire over net cord calls.

A ball fired off his racket in one moment of frustration hit the umpire’s chair and cost him a point but there was to be no denying the 25-year-old. The crowd exploded one final time when Humbert sent a backhand return sailing wide of the line after nearly 3 1/2 hours on court.

“I don`t how I did that, I`m lost for words, that is one of the craziest matches I`ve ever played,” said Kyrgios. “It was a strange match, if you guys were inside my head, there were some dark thoughts in there. It’s my career, I live to fight another day and hopefully I can continue to play tennis in front of you guys,” he added, to another huge round of applause from the crowd.

Kyrgios had not played for a year before the Australian Open warm-up tournaments after deciding to stay at home as the new coronavirus spread around the world and knew he would be up against it facing 22-year-old Humbert.

“He’s a heck of a player, he played amazing tennis,” Kyrgios said. “The one thing I had him on right now is experience. I`ve just drawn from experience so much on this court. I put my head down and tried to make him play.”

An unlikely victory over Thiem — “You`ll kill him!” shouted one optimistic fan — would send Kyrgios into the fourth round of the Australian Open for the third time.

“He’s one of the best players in the world,” said Kyrgios, wiping sweat from his brow. “I’m not even going to think about that.” 

Zverev cruises past American qualifier Cressy into third round 

German sixth seed Alexander Zverev put in a clinical display to ease past American qualifier Maxime Cressy 7-5 6-4 6-3 into the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday. The US Open finalist got a high percentage of his powerful first services in and never appeared to lose control against his fellow 23-year-old during the final match of the evening session on the Rod Laver Arena.

Zverev was happy to be patient and waited for his chances against his big serving opponent, who approached the net at every opportunity. He hit six more winners than Cressy, who is ranked 172nd, with 11 unforced errors to his opponent`s 30, breaking the American`s serve once in each of the first two sets and twice in the third.

“He’s a very tricky opponent, so not always easy to play someone like that,” Zverev said. “I know his kind of game very well and I’m pleased to have won.”

Cressy also had his chances on Zverev`s serve but could not convert any of his four breakpoint opportunities. Zverev converted his second match point when Cressy found the net with his return to set up a meeting with 32nd-seeded Frenchman Adrian Mannarino. 

Halep wins five straight games to rally to victory 

Romanian second seed Simona Halep won five consecutive games to come back from the brink to defeat local hope Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6 6-4 7-5 in an error-strewn match to advance to the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday.

Twice Grand Slam winner Halep came into the match with a 3-0 career record against the 27-year-old Australian, ranked 72nd, but found it difficult to pave a way past Tomljanovic’s all-or-nothing approach in front of a boisterous Melbourne Court Arena. Halep appeared set to join fellow Grand Slam winners Petra Kvitova, Venus Williams and Bianca Andreescu in exiting the year’s first major on Wednesday when Tomljanovic took a 5-2 lead in the deciding set. 

But with just a game away from defeat, she started playing more freely and managed to find a way back into the match.

“It was an amazing match,” Halep told reporters. “She played unbelievable. But I fought till the end. I never gave up, and that`s why maybe I could win in the end. Honestly I’m really happy and proud of what I did today on court, for the fight.”

Both players went toe-to-toe from the start with some powerful hitting from the baseline but Tomljanovic punished Halep’s weak second serve and played a few delightful drop shots to wrest the opening set.

Halep cut down on her errors in the second to level the match at 1-1 before the Australian, buoyed by the support from the crowd, surged ahead in the decider.

Halep then staged a stunning comeback by winning the final five games and ended the contest by converting her second match point with a forehand winner, her 28th of the match. Tomljanovic hit nine more winners than Halep but also had 20 more unforced errors than Halep`s 37 which ultimately proved to be the difference.

“She did exactly what I expected. She raised her level. Didn`t give me much till the end,” a distraught Tomljanovic said. “It’s hard, very hard to talk about it right now and see any sort of positives.”

The 2018 Melbourne Park finalist will take on Russian 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova for a place in the fourth round. 

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