By Martyn Herman
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov kept cool in the Rod Laver Arena maelstrom to knock home favorite Nick Kyrgios out of the Australian Open in a fourth-round thriller on Sunday.
Third seed Dimitrov absorbed 76 winners and struck 64 of his own to edge a scintillating duel 7-6(3) 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(4).
While Australia’s wait for a men’s champion will now stretch to 43 years, Dimitrov will go into a quarter-final with unseeded British player Kyle Edmund brimming with belief that a first grand slam title is within reach.
The 26-year-old showed enormous resilience and nerve to subdue a ferocious Kyrgios fightback, claiming victory after three hours and 26 minutes with a majestic forehand pass.
As the combatants embraced, Kyrgios told Dimitrov to “believe” before the defeated 22-year-old left to a standing ovation. A year ago it was jeers after a second-round meltdown.
“Playing against Nick is always tricky,” Dimitrov told former champion Jim Courier on court. “He was serving unbelievable. Playing unbelievable. Competing.
“He deserves a lot of credit. He fought really hard and it’s one of the matches you have to be locked in.”
Kyrgios did little wrong and said the match had been decided by the odd point here and there.
“I lost tonight to one of the best players in the world. Went down swinging,” he said.
The prime-time clash crackled with intensity from the get-go with Dimitrov’s elegant style contrasting with the explosive shot-making of maverick 17th seed Kyrgios.
“Oh Nicky you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind” chanted the gold and green clad fans in a Davis Cup atmosphere.
Even the seagulls perched on the roof appeared transfixed on the drama unfolding below.
While Kyrgios’s histrionics are well chronicled, all the talk this past week has been the fact that he appears ready to fulfill his vast potential, especially after a superb victory over his idol Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in round three.
Dimitrov, who won the ATP Finals last year, had to play high-octane tennis to edge an intense opener in a tiebreak.
Kyrgios’s only lapse arrived at 3-3 in the second set when he bunted a backhand long to hand Dimitrov a break point and then casually messed up a volley.
For a few minutes it seemed Kyrgios might unravel but his growing maturity was evident as he re-grouped and seized on a tight service game by Dimitrov at 5-4, saving a set point, before breaking back to huge roars from the crowd.
Dimitrov is made of stern stuff these days though and edged another tiebreak. He constructed a beautiful point, finishing a long rally with a stealthy volley, to move 3-1 ahead.
Kyrgios belted away a backhand and then whipped away a forehand to drag it back to 4-4 but Dimitrov replied with a punishing forehand down the line to move 5-4 ahead before a couple of Kyrgios errors gave the Bulgarian a two-set lead.
Despite the deficit, Kyrgios’s body language bristled with intent and he took the third set after breaking at 2-2.
The comeback looked on as Kyrgios cranked up his serving power, belting down four aces to level at 2-2 in the fourth.
Yet the 22-year-old Australian’s hopes looked toast when he buried a smash into the net to hand Dimitrov a 5-3 lead.
The drama was not over though as Dimitrov wobbled when serving for victory. He served a double fault at 15-30 and then watched a backhand fly past him as Kyrgios broke back.
Dimitrov recovered his poise with a love hold but Kyrgios replied in kind with a 36th ace to force another tiebreak.
Once again it was Dimitov’s calm under pressure that was key as he put together another clinical tiebreaker to take victory.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)