Melbourne, Australia – With Will Smith in the crowd and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga across the net, Nick Kyrgios was in his element as the main attraction for a night at the Australian Open.
Time to put on a show.
One of his favorite actors — Smith was making his Grand Slam debut as a spectator — watched Friday as Kyrgios held his composure to beat childhood hero Tsonga 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) in the third round. The 17th-seeded Kyrgios won the last five points after falling behind 5-2 in the tiebreaker.
For an Australian public desperate to see a first home-grown winner of the men’s national title since 1976, a seemingly reinvigorated Kyrgios could be the redemption story of the tournament.
“Playing Jo, I was obviously very nervous. He was a guy I looked up to as a kid. Still do,” Kyrgios said in an on-court interview, recounting how he brought a ball to be signed by Tsonga every day when the Frenchman reached the Australian Open final in 2008.
Then he gave a nod to Smith, the actor he would pick to play the role of Kyrgios if there was a movie to be made.
“When I saw him out here I was so nervous. No joke,” Kyrgios said. “People think I’m cool, but I wanted him to think I was the coolest person ever.”
Cool was the optimal word late on Day 5, when a threatening heat wave subsided and no matches were suspended despite searing temperatures hitting 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) at Melbourne Park for a second straight day.
The Kyrgios-Tsonga match pushed top-ranked Rafael Nadal onto the No. 2 court at Melbourne Park for his match against Damir Dzumhur.
The change of scenery worked for Nadal, who lost last year’s final to Roger Federer before going on to win the French Open and U.S. Open titles. Nadal reached the fourth round in Australia for the 11th time with the 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 win. He will next play No. 24 Diego Schwartzman, who beat Aleksandr Dolgopolov 6-7 (1), 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.
The other French Open champion, Jelena Ostapenko, followed Nadal on Margaret Court Arena but didn’t make it through to the second week, losing 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 to 32nd-seeded Anett Kontaveit.
The seventh-seeded Ostapenko’s loss left only two major champions in the women’s draw. Only one of them can reach the fourth round; Maria Sharapova meets Angelique Kerber to determine which one.
The youngest player in the tournament and the oldest player in the men’s draw went out on Day 5.
Fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina ended 15-year-old Marta Kostyuk’s run with a 6-2, 6-2 victory. Kostyuk entered the tournament ranked No. 521 and her wins in the first two rounds made her the youngest player to win main-draw matches at the Australian Open since Martina Hingis in 1996.
Andreas Seppi withstood 52 aces from Ivo Karlovic for a 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (3), 6-7 (5), 9-7 win, sending the big Croat out of the tournament about a month shy of his 39th birthday.
Players were bothered and spectators clamored for shade and mist-spraying fans earlier Friday, and organizers were on the verge of enforcing the tournament’s extreme heat policy before temperatures dropped significantly after peaking at about 2 p.m.
Alize Cornet, who had her blood pressure checked during a medical timeout in her 7-5, 6-4 third-round loss to Elise Mertens, was among those calling for a review of the limits that determine when play should be suspended.
“I started to feel dizzy. … I felt that I could faint at any moment,” Cornet said. “Playing in this condition is of course very dangerous.”
Second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki also made it through. Two days after saving two-match points and rallying from 5-1 down in the third set to progress through the second round, Wozniacki advanced 6-4, 6-3 over No. 30 Kiki Bertens on her fourth match point.
“Nothing to lose. I got a second chance. I’m just going to try and take it and see how far I can go,” said Wozniacki, who will play No. 19 Magdalena Rybarikova next.
Kyle Edmund overcame Nikoloz Basilashvili in five sets in 3½ hours on an open court in the peak of the heat, earning a spot in the next round against Seppi.
Also, No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta beat No. 23 Gilles Muller and will next play No. 6 Marin Cilic, who had a 7-6 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (4) win over Ryan Harrison.
As it cooled off, third-ranked Grigor Dimitrov beat No. 30 Andrey Rublev 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 to secure a spot in the fourth round against Kyrgios, who beat him at the Brisbane International last month on the way to the title.
Kyrgios has been a divisive character in Australia, getting plenty of criticism for his off-color comments to Stan Wawrinka about his girlfriend and his fine in 2016 for showing a “lack of best efforts,” unsporting conduct and verbally abusing a spectator at the Shanghai Masters.
His two previous matches at Rod Laver Arena have ended in losses — to five-time finalist Andy Murray in 2016 and to former Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych in 2015 — so Kyrgios has favored the outside courts until now.
The public perception may be changing, and he’s almost a certainty to get another prime-time slot on Rod Laver.
“It doesn’t worry me at all. It’s not something I wake up and I’m like, ‘Look, today I’m going to try to change the perception,” said Kyrgios, who reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals as a teenager in 2014. “I’ve always played the same way. Nothing has changed. I’ve always been emotional.”
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