MELBOURNE – Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov kept cool in the Rod Laver Arena maelstrom to knock home favourite Nick Kyrgios out of the Australian Open in a fourth-round thriller yesterday.
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 fulfil his vast potential, especially after a superb victory over his idol Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in round three.
Meanwhile, top seed Rafa Nadal was rattled by a feisty challenge from Diego Schwartzman but held firm to fend off the diminutive Argentine 6-3 6-7(4) 6-3 6-3 and reach his 10th Australian Open quarter-final yesterday.
In an often breathtaking clash laden with sumptuous shot-making, the Spaniard was rocked by the hard-hitting Schwartzman who broke him three times to claim the second set at Rod Laver Arena.
But the 16-times grand slam champion responded with typical grit, bolstering his defence to blanket the 24th seed’s firepower and counter-punching brilliantly to book a match with Croatia’s Marin Cilic.
After three cakewalks in the previous rounds, the three-hour 51-minute work-out was timely, said Nadal, who came into the tournament with some queries over a knee injury.
“You can’t expect easy matches when you’re playing in big tournaments,” the world number one told reporters after saving all his seven break points in the final set.
“It’s always better winning in two hours than in four. But that’s it. It was a good test for me. It was a lot of hours on court. Moments under pressure.
“A lot of positive things that I managed well. But being honest, too, moments like this helps to be more confident in yourself, in your body.”
The victory ensured Nadal, who lost a five-set classic to long-time rival Roger Federer in the final last year, will retain his world number one ranking.
It also put the Mallorcan equal second with Stefan Edberg on the number of quarter-final appearances in the Australian grand slam in the professional era. Federer, naturally, leads with 14.