The Nick Kyrgios experience was in full effect against Dominic Thiem, from the underarm ace that successfully closed the second set to the around-the-back, between-the-legs miss that ceded the third and so much more — to the delight of the Australian Open’s last spectators for a while.
Kyrgios, a 25-year-old Australian who is part showman and part sideshow, had a grand ol’ time while he was off to a perfect start, egging on a rowdy, partisan crowd and building a two-set lead in the third round Friday against No. 2 seed Thiem, the reigning US Open champion and last year’s runner-up at Melbourne Park.
Not surprisingly, the talented and tempestuous Kyrgios was decidedly less amused after his level of play dipped, resulting in a tossed racket, his customary sort of back-and-forth with the chair umpire, a couple of warnings that resulted in a point penalty — and a hard-to-swallow loss to Thiem by a score of 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
At Flushing Meadows in September, Thiem became the first man in 71 years to come back to win the final after dropping the first two sets, so this was nothing new for him. And in calm contrast to the ever-animated Kyrgios, Thiem reserved his displays of emotion to a simple shake of a raised right fist that marked his break to go up 4-3 in the fifth set and then the last point.
This was Kyrgios’ second consecutive five-setter at 10,500-capacity John Cain Arena; in the previous round, he erased two match points en route to eliminating No. 29 Ugo Humbert.
This time, he was the one who blew a lead, which could have been even more significant had he not wasted a pair of break points at the start of the third set.
The stadium was about three-quarters full Friday; many in attendance were not mindful of being socially distant or wearing the masks that were to become mandatory at midnight for the state of Victoria. The state government has imposed a five-day lockdown because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
While competition at the tournament can continue, no spectators will be allowed as of Saturday.
“This was a good last match before the lockdown,” Thiem said. “It’s really sad to say.”
So with one last night out for the time being, folks were living their best lives.
They sang at changeovers, while Kyrgios sipped from a soda can. They jumped and screamed at Kyrgios’ winners. They pounded the backs of seats. They cheered Thiem’s mistakes. They booed close line calls that went against Kyrgios — even though such decisions are determined by an automated system of cameras, not line judges, at this event.
The spectacle started during the warm-up, when Kyrgios — wearing a beige sleeve on his left leg — paused his practice serves to wave his racket and ask his fellow Aussies to get louder. They obliged, of course, eliciting a big grin from their guy.
When Kyrgios broke serve in the match’s initial game, he hopped in delight and relished the cascading cheers, cupping his right hand on his ear to again implore for more — and, again, they complied.
His first game featured an underarm serve and a between-the-legs half-volley, neither of which worked — nor were they the last of those tricks he would try.
When Thiem pushed a forehand out to get broken and trail 5-4 in the second, Kyrgios yelled “Let’s go, baby!” as he strutted to the changeover. When the underarm ace ended the set, Kyrgios stretched his arms wide, as if to say, “Are you not entertained?”
Later, he questioned the loss of a point on a hindrance call, saying that his yell was no louder or more distracting to his opponent than other players’ grunts.
Thiem was the runner-up to Novak Djokovic at Melbourne Park a year ago and then went on to win his first Grand Slam title at the US Open in September. He will now face Grigor Dimitrov for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Also Friday, No. 8 seed Diego Schwartzman was eliminated in the third round by Aslan Karatsev, a qualifier from Russia ranked 114th and making his Grand Slam debut.
By far the biggest victory of the 27-year-old Karatsev’s career came via a hard-to-believe margin of 50-5 in total winners and a lopsided score of 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
He is only the fifth man since 2000 to reach the round of 16 in his first appearance at a major championship. He is also the first qualifier to get that far at Melbourne Park since Milos Raonic a decade ago.
Karatsev had never beaten a player ranked higher than 48th. He now will meet another seeded player with a quarterfinal berth at stake — No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Schwartzman was a semifinalist at last year’s French Open and entered Friday with a 9-0 record against qualifiers in Grand Slam matches.
Earlier, Alexander Zverev needed just 1 hour, 43 minutes to defeat Adrian Mannarino at Rod Laver Arena and move on to the fourth round.
Zverev, the No. 6 seed who made the semifinals of last year’s tournament, had 19 aces and 35 winners en route to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 victory. He is chasing his first career Grand Slam title.
Zverev had three wins over Mannarino in 2020, including a four-set victory in the third round of the US Open in September.
“I’m very happy,” Zverev said after Friday’s 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 Carreno Busta withdrew.
Canadian men went 2-for-3 in their third-round matches. The third lost only because he played a fellow Canadian.
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