Three weeks into the ATP Tour season, Grigor Dimitrov has already played plenty of close matches and, once again, had to produce some of his best tennis to edge Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round of the Australian Open 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-6 (7-4) after nearly three and a half hours in the evening session on the Rod Laver Arena.
The two had met just two weeks ago in Brisbane, where Kyrgios prevailed in three sets, but Dimitrov had won the previous two meetings against the mercurial Australian and has now extended his head-to-head lead over Kyrgios to 3-1, showcasing his improved mental toughness, an aspect of his game where he previously fell short more often than not.
By comparison, Kyrgios, who had stayed mostly calm through the first three rounds of the tournament, appeared annoyed throughout the first set, making repeated remarks towards his box.
Kyrgios’s serve kept him in the match, as the Australian dug out of 15-40 hole in the sixth game of the first set, saving the only three break-points in the frame, but he double-faulted on set point in the tie-break to hand the set to Dimitrov.
In the second frame, Dimitrov had a set point at 5-4 on his own service, only to lose the next three points and have his serve broken. He raised his game at the crucial moment with the tie-break tied at 4-4, winning the next three points to take a 2-0 lead.
Kyrgios threw all caution to the wind in the third and it paid off as he clawed one set back, but Dimitrov stepped his game up once again in the fourth and found himself serving for the match at 5-4. A shout from the crowd appeared to unsettle Dimitrov’s serve and Kyrgios broke back. After three service games to love, it went to tie-break yet again, which Dimitrov won on his second match point.
So close was the match that the final tally showed Dimitrov winning just one point more than his opponent, 157 to 156. Kyrgios’s serve bailed him out repeatedly, as the Australian had 36 aces to Dimitrov’s 16, and he also had more winners (76 to 64), but he also had double as many unforced errors (55 to Dimitrov’s 26), which proved the difference in the end.
“Playing against Nick is always tricky, it’s one of those matches you have to lock in and take the chances you have. It’s frustrating playing Nick, you always have to be alert,” Dimitrov said in his first on-court comments after the match.
Dimitrov has now reached the last eight of the Australian Open for the third time in five years. On the two previous occasions, the 2014 quarterfinal and last year’s semi, his run was ended by Rafael Nadal and another potential encounter with the world number one could be on the cards should Dimitrov continue his run against Britain’s Kyle Edmund, ranked 49th in the world, in the next match (Nadal faces a sterner test in sixth-seed Marin Cilic, but he is 5-1 against the Croatian, winning their last five encounters).
“I played Kyle two weeks ago, but I’m just focusing on my side, I’m happy to have played better today and hopefully I can again in the quarter-finals,” Dimitrov said. That meeting, in Brisbane, saw the Bulgarian prevail in three sets, same as their only other previous match, in Washington last year.
(Photo: Brad Touesnard/flickr.com)