Some dramatic and unexpected results headline the fifth day of the Australian Open which in some ways was dominated by the crowd, at one moment they were in full voice and then, as the stadium clock approached midnight, were told to leave the stadium as the five-day lockdown came into effect.
When I got the break in the third set, I realised there was a chance to turn it around and the longer the match got the more comfortable I felt. This was a good last match before lockdown Dominic Thiem
They were at their loudest during the much-anticipated Nick Kyrgios clash with the world number three Dominic Thiem and were well rewarded by the two players who produced an epic, the second in which the local hero Kyrgios has been involved in this week.
Unfortunately for home fans, on this occasion, he ended upon the wrong side of the score as Thiem, showing great patience and by digging deep, recovered from two sets anda break point down to defeat the Aussie 4-6 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-4.
It was a remarkable recovery by the US Open champion, considering how Kyrgios had whipped up the crowd in his favourite Melbourne Arena to race ahead and establish what looked like an unassailable lead.
The AO’s main attraction used all his wiles and power to establish that lead, breaking serve in the opening game, delivering an underarm serve and a tweener in the second and disputing a net cord in the third.
That single break was sufficient to take the first set, and Kyrgios brought the house down when he clinched the second with an underarm ace!
Despite looking down and out, Thiem started his recovery by saving two break points in the opening game of the third and concentrated on holding serve to such an effect he put together 28 service points to slowly edge doubt into his opponent’s mind.
He finally edged 5-3 ahead in the decider and served out to secure a memorable victory with a trademark backhand.
“That first match against Nick here on his favourite court with an amazing crowd, there are easier things to do,” Thiem said later. “Surely that’s one of the toughest challenges in our sport.”
Thiem admitted he was facing defeat at the start of the third but recovered his poise, saying: “I was dealing with the loss but then fighting myself. Giving up is not an option.
“When I got the break in the third set, I realised there was a chance to turn it around and the longer the match got the more comfortable I felt. This was a good last match before lockdown.”
Kyrgios wasn’t too downhearted following his loss.
“He’s the third-best player in the world for a reason, and I’m right there and I believe in myself.
“I knew that today I had an absolute fighting chance and I walked into that match expecting to win. I’m super proud of everything I’ve done the last couple of months to get ready for it.”
“As soon as I lost, I wasn’t upset. I was smiling,” Kyrgios added. “He’s a hell of a player and he’s put in a lot of work. I’m happy for him.
“I’m at the point in my career that if I lose I cop it on the chin and don’t complain, you know. He just played too good. I have a big heart and I’m really proud of what I have been able to achieve.”
That wasn’t the only upset which had been prevented as the top seed, Novak Djokovic just survived his own third round clash with Taylor Fritz of the US.
While he was later to declare it as being one of the greatest moments of his career because he battled through to victory having picked up an abdominal injury during the match which severely restricted his mobility.
It was obviously a very emotional moment as he let out an almighty roar to an empty stadium when he finally romped past the finish line.
The 33-year-old Serb was plainly relieved to make it through, saying in an interview on Eurosport: “Well obviously mentally and emotionally, I feel great.
“It’s a huge relief to pull this one through in these kinds of conditions I found myself in … it was one of a kind type of match, for me, that’s what I said on the court, and I really mean it.”
Djokovic went on to describe the win as a career highlight given the tough situation he found himself in.
“It’s one of the best moments I’ve had in my career under these kinds of circumstances,” he explained.
“Obviously I don’t want to talk about the intensity, or the level of injury, or the pain, it’s not going to matter much because people don’t understand what you go through on the court.
“The way it felt at the beginning of the third set, when I got my first medical timeout, I was debating really strongly in my head to retire the match after two games, because I just couldn’t move, I couldn’t rotate, I couldn’t return, the only thing I could do is serve, and that’s what got me out of the trouble … I knew my only chance is if I serve well and put pressure on his service games, which happened.
“And whatever is happening here [the injury] got better in the fifth, and I could start to play, and return a few serves.
“I’m obviously very, very proud of this but at the same time also a bit worried because I don’t know what’s going on and I think it’s a tear,” he said.
“I had a kind of weird feeling on one of the returns just before I got a medical time out and I knew right away that something not so great is happening.
There are now doubts as to whether he will walk out on court for his next match.
“It was confirmed by a physio from the ATP, but let’s see. I don’t know. I don’t have a great experience with tears in terms of continuing in the tournament, so that’s something which is kind of in the clouds for me at the moment, whether I’m going to step out on the court in two days.
“Hopefully, god-willing I’ll be able to play.”
But there were two upsets with both Diego Schwartzman the eighth seed from Argentina and Canadian Denis Shapovalov, seeded 11, failing to get through to round four.
Schwartzman was eliminated 6-3 6-3 6-3 by Asian Karatsev, a qualifier from Russia ranked 114th who is making his Grand Slam debut. He is only the fifth man since 2000 to reach the round of 16 in his first appearance at a major championship and will now face Canadian Felix Auger-Alliasime who in turn, ousted compatriot Shapovalov 7-5 7-5 6-3.
Earlier, Alexander Zverev needed just 103-minutes to defeat France’s Adrian Mannarino 6-3 6-3 6-1.
“I’m very happy,” Zverev said after the win. “I played him three times last year, and they were all long and difficult matches. Today, I decided that I’d hit the ball a bit harder.”
Zverev, 23, next will face No. 23 seed Dusan Lajovic, who defeated Spain’s Pedro Martinez 6-7(6) 7-5 6-1 6-4.
In other men’s matches, No. 18 seed Dimitrov advanced to the fourth round when Pablo Carreno-Busta retired because of an injury in the second set. Dimitrov led 6-0, 1-0 when the Spaniard threw in the towel.
Canadian veteran Raonic also advanced to the fourth round at Melbourne Park beating Marton Fucsovics of Hungary 7-6(2) 5-7 6-2 6-2. He will face Djokovic next if the Serb recovers in time.