Deep in the tiebreak of one of the very best sets of tennis played this year, Nick Kyrgios slammed his racket and then hollered towards his box, his face a picture of rage. He had saved three set points with some audacious touches, but as he generated three of his own, each time he was ground down by the immense durability of Daniil Medvedev.
There was a time not long ago when this could have all gone awry, with the tiebreak level at 11-11. But not these days. Under immense pressure, Kyrgios gave the purest demonstration of his ball striking talent, following up an explosive down-the-line backhand with a delicate drop shot winner, an audacious combination of shots that set the tone for what was to come.
In an intense, high quality tussle that felt so much bigger than a fourth round encounter, Kyrgios, the 23rd seed, extended the greatest summer of his career as he defeated Medvedev, the defending champion and world No 1, 7-6 (13-11), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Arthur Ashe Stadium to reach the quarter-finals of the US Open for the first time in his career. Kyrgios will next face Karen Khachanov, the 27th seed. “I want to go all the way, and hopefully it’s possible,” he said.
It marks another step forward in a year that Kyrgios has learnt how to pair his talent with discipline within his game and outside of the court. Kyrgios is now 35-9 in 2022. He has won more matches than any other player this summer, and if he had been granted those 1,200 points from his Wimbledon final run, he would be top eight in the ATP race, right behind Medvedev himself.
Asked whether he considers this win the best of his career, Kyrgios shrugged. “I feel like I’m more just proud of the way that I’ve bounced back after everything, honestly,” he said. “I’ve been in some really tough situations mentally, and in some really scary places. So, yeah, obviously if you look at it on paper, I probably wasn’t expected to win that.”
Despite the fourth-round billing and Kyrgios’s seeding, the match-up showcased the best player in the top half of the draw versus the most in-form player. For an hour, despite how well Kyrgios had played, Medvedev remained right alongside him. He enraged Kyrgios with his defence, soaking up all of his changes of pace, direction and spins. They traded breaks and then they duelled all the way to the depths of the first set tiebreak. But Kyrgios’s daring, and that absurd drop shot, were the difference.
By the end of the first set, they had combined for 44 winners and just 20 unforced errors. The challenge, though, was maintaining that level. Kyrgios’s level sharply dropped at the beginning of the second set as he opened it with a dire service game and Medvedev marched through the set.
For all of the quality demonstrated on Ashe, there was also a moment of foolishness. At 1-0, 30-30 on Medvedev’s serve in the third set, Medvedev was unable to control a searing passing shot from Kyrgios, the ball striking his racket and flying into the air. Kyrgios celebrated by sprinting to Medvedev’s side of the court and volleying the ball in celebration, a grin plastered over his face. Since Kyrgios struck the ball before it bounced out, Medvedev was awarded the point. “It’s going to be everywhere on SportsCenter so I’m going to look like an idiot, but that’s alright,” he said, smiling.
What could have been a pivotal misjudgement was merely a slight detour en route to victory. Two games later, Kyrgios played his best return game of the match, easily breaking the Russian’s serve to establish a third set lead. Rather than Medvedev, it was Kyrgios who sustained his supremely high level from that point until the end, methodically picking Medvedev apart with high class serving and returning, keeping the defending champion off-balance throughout.
Medvedev had arrived at the US Open with a target on his back while his form had dropped off in the year since his US Open triumph. His title defence may have fallen early, but in the end he did not play badly, committing just 19 unforced errors in four sets. “It was a high-level match. Played Novak, Rafa. They all play amazing. Nick today played kind of their level, in my opinion,” he said.
With Medvedev’s defeat, he will be replaced at No 1 by either Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz or Casper Ruud. Kyrgios, meanwhile, had never played well in New York and his previous best result being a third round finish was a source of frustration for him. Now he is the clear favourite in his first US Open quarter-final.
“I hadn’t won a match on Ashe before this week, now I’ve won two against two quality opponents,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been able to showcase. There’s a lot of celebrities here, a lot of important people here watching. I wanted to get on that court and show them I am able to put my head down and play and win these big matches.”
Kyrgios had started this North American swing by speaking about how much he was looking forward to its ending, when he would be able to fly home and reunite with his family. Once again, he has delayed his departure.
“We got to try and just tough it out and keep pushing each other, keep being positive,” he said. “We do realise it’s next week we’re going home. But three more matches potentially, then we never have to play tennis again.”