It’s the overcooked forehand of a thriller that could have cost Nick Kyrgios a Grand Slam title. As gallant as the Australian was in his 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-4 win over Karen Khachanov at the US Open, one ask if this golden opportunity will come again. The frustration he showed as he left the court suggested he had noticed. Broken rackets. And more It’s a shame, because even though he won, he fought hard.
Kyrgios was devastated by the loss, saying he felt “mentally distraught”. “There was really nothing,” he said. “I’m devastated, obviously. I am [just] feeling like I was winning all or nothing, to be honest. I feel like I just failed this event right now. That’s what it feels like.”
But let’s go back to the right. The favorite for the US Open title following Rafael Nadal’s exit, the Australian appeared to have finally found his groove in what proved to be a moody but electric quarter-final on Tuesday night at Flushing Meadows. In the third set of a tight match in four games, both came up with two break points against the Russian, who played superbly to produce his best performance at a Grand Slam.
On the second of those points, Kyrgios put himself in position to hit a forehand. Instead of breaking a line, like many of his shots during the first week in New York, the No. 23 seed fired it well past the baseline. Abandoned, he exhausted his belief for a period.
The Wimbledon finalist was very lucky to receive a break from Khachanov, who kept his nerve and concentration long enough to break his opponent, in the next game. But the Russian, who had previously reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, was relentless. He used his reach well to break Kyrgios’ spectacular serve.
And the same reach came to the fore when Khachanov, whose technique resembles “The Crane” kick deployed by Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid, whipped one down the line that proved too heavy for Kyrgios to handle the set point. Had Kyrgios forehanded at 4-4, the odds suggest he would have won the match to set up a semi-final against Casper Ruud. But tennis is a sport with good margins.
The toughest competitor, both physically and mentally, prevailed. Although Kyrgios produced a superb fourth-set tiebreak to extend the match, it was Khachanov who finished too strong in the decider to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final.
Kygrios had started the match as heavy favorite after dismantling Khachanov’s compatriot Daniil Medvedev, the defending champion. But the record books suggested it would be much closer. When they played at Melbourne Park in 2020, the final four sets of another thriller won by Kyrgios ended in tie-breaks. And so it proved.
The signs from Kyrgios were ominous early. Khachanov was serving bullets. And with the Russian clearly up for the challenge, the Australian began to grab his left knee.
The first set was not a case of blink and you missed it. But it was the fastest tennis, with Khachanov racing to a 7-5 lead in just 35 minutes with a superb backhand. This was the kind of tennis officials once feared would become commonplace until measures were put in place to slow things down a bit. Older men serve up even older ones, which does little to entertain fans.
We dare suggest it, but early boredom might explain the odd behavior that saw two patrons leave Arthur Ashe Stadium after one started shaving the other’s head.
By the time that lob landed, the quarterfinals had swung in Khachanov’s favor. The Australian has sought medical treatment for the lack that has been bothering him and started the second set in stronger fashion, grabbing a break to go 2-1 up. That was enough, so the Australian used the rest of the set to level the match.
Khachanov saved two break points in the first game of the third set. Then came the moment of truth. Kyrgios looked to have the upper hand, but the match turned on its head with a forehand that missed. Instead of leading in the fourth set, he had a mountain to climb that proved too difficult to overcome.
To his great credit, the 27-year-old showed fight. He could have turned tail. Instead, he forced a fifth set. But when it went down in the early game, the writing was on the wall. The Australian’s best season at Grand Slam level, one where he came close to becoming champion, is over.
“That’s all people remember in a Grand Slam, whether you win or lose,” he said. “I think almost every other tournament during the year is a waste of time really. You should just run and show up for a Grand Slam. That’s what it reminds you of.”
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