A brave and, at times, fiery Nick Kyrgios was eliminated from the 2018 Australian Open at the fourth round stage on Sunday night after an epic four-set encounter with Bulgarian third seed Grigor Dimitrov at Rod Laver Arena.
Kyrgios left nothing in the tank as he went down fighting in a 7-6 7-6 4-6 7-6 defeat in three hours and 26 minutes of enthralling tennis that had the crowd on the edge of their seats throughout.
“Yeah, it was a tough match,” Kyrgios said.
“Obviously I knew it was always going to be tough. He’s been playing great. I think with him, he hasn’t even found his best form yet and he’s still getting through all those matches, which is pretty frightening.
“It was only a couple points in it, you know. It wasn’t like I got demolished out there or anything. I had a lot of chances to win the match and I just came up short. Obviously it’s frustrating but it is what it is.”
There was little to separate the two combatants in the early going with the opening two sets decided in tie breaks.
Dimitrov’s ability to stay cool under pressure saw him comfortably get through those tie break situations, while Kyrgios was plagued by unforced errors at the wrong times.
Kyrgios was in no rush to exit a tournament in which he built up so much good will for his calmer temperament on the whole – even if he lost his cool after two foot faults in his elimination match – and his willingness to scrap for every single point.
The 22-year-old from Canberra made the third set his own, breaking in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead and wrapping up the only set that did not go to a tie breaker.
Just like he had throughout the tournament, Kyrgios was able to unleash some stupendous winners to compliment his on-point serving, which had the crowd roaring in delight for the hometown hope.
Kyrgios finished with 36 aces – 20 more than Dimitrov.
He also had 12 more winners – 74 to 64.
Incredibly, those numbers did not equate to a victory for Kyrgios, who felt that a point here and there wound up costing him the match.
“You know, he made a couple scrappy returns, made me play an extra ball,” he said.
“I thought he served well in the breakers and he just made that extra ball.”
The fourth set was a cliffhanger, but again it was Dimitrov in a tie breaker.
Kyrgios had fought back from 5-3 down in the fourth, but spent all his petrol tickets launching his comeback.
On the whole, Dimitrov produced a more consistent brand of tennis from the first serve to the last point.
The 26-year-old could have hit a 20 cent piece at the other end of the court in a rally such was his precision on the forehand.
His movement all over the compass was a sight to behold with his burst of speed and long reach helping him negotiate the unpredictable selection of shots that came his way from Kyrgios.
You can’t argue that Dimitrov didn’t thoroughly deserve this victory.
Dimitrov’s 14 ranking positions higher than Kyrgios and four more years of experience shone through in the big moments.
But Kyrgios won a new army of fans over in this tournament.
You get the feeling that he is on the verge of something special in 2018 if January is any indication.
He won the Brisbane International title – including a semi final win over Dimitrov – and carried his form into the Australian Open, where he beat Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Viktor Troicki and Rogerio Dutra Silva.
Assessing his own summer in Australia, Kyrgios was pleased with how he performed.
“I’m pretty happy with my Aussie summer,” he said.
“I thought I played well, I thought I played well tonight. I gave my best efforts this week, I came up short. I beat three quality opponents.”
Kyrgios is more settled now than he was 12 months ago.
He says he has “more of a clear vision and goal” for the season ahead, as opposed to last year when he was thinking more short term.
“I think I’m in a good head space,” he said.
“I just feel like I’m trying to get better.”