Nick Kyrgios relishing showdown with childhood hero Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Australian Open third round

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When Nick Kyrgios was 12 years old, he attended every Jo-Wilfried Tsonga practice session at the 2008 Australian Open, witnessing the Frenchman make it all the way to the final.

Kyrgios, who is now just two spots lower than Tsonga in the world rankings, got his hero’s autograph after each practice at Melbourne Park.

On Friday, Kyrgios takes on Tsonga in the Australian Open third round, a decade on from his days as a young fan chasing signatures.

“It’s going to be fun,” said Kyrgios, who lost his only previous meeting with Tsonga — a tight three-setter in the Marseille semi-finals 11 months ago.

“We played last year in Marseille. He beat me in a three-set battle. It was a lot of fun. Obviously a guy I looked up to growing up.

“I’ve seen him play a lot. I know what he’s going to bring. He knows what I’m going to bring. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Kyrgios reflects fondly on that 2008 tournament which remains Tsonga’s sole appearance in a Grand Slam final.

“It was just the way he played his game. I liked his aggressive style of tennis. He had a big serve, big forehand. He played an entertaining style tennis,” he said of Tsonga.

“When I was 12, I went to all his practice sessions. He made the final in 2008. I think I was 12. I went to all his practice sessions with a new ball. He signed it every day. I don’t know if he remembers. I didn’t miss one of his practice sessions, so…”

Kyrgios isn’t just 10 years older now; so far at the Australian Open, he has shown composure when he needed it, as he overcame an attention-seeking disruptive fan, an inoperative court microphone and a helicopter hovering persistently over the chaotic Hisense Arena to post a 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (2) win over Serbia’s Viktor Troicki.

The 22-year-old Aussie began his season by clinching the title in Brisbane and now extended his winning streak to seven matches and zero losses in 2018.

He loves the energy of Hisense Arena — dubbed the “People’s Court” — and is known to feed off the crowd. But on Wednesday, the distractions were working against him yet he chose to conserve his energy instead of giving in to the hype.

“I know I have to conserve my energy from the start in best-of-five matches. Just so many ups and downs, it’s draining. You want to just conserve as much energy as you can,” said Kyrgios.

“It was tough. I told the umpire to maybe just not use a microphone anymore because the crowd just found it so amusing. I mean, I was just like, ‘Dude, just stop doing it. It’s going to create more of a circus’. He stopped doing it.

“Obviously it was tough. It felt like I was playing at another tournament. I didn’t hear the microphone, no music at change of ends. It was a strange atmosphere.”

Despite some complaints to the umpire, Kyrgios relatively kept his cool and walked off court a winner in straight sets.

The usually temperamental Kyrgios, who was slapped with a $3,000 fine for using colorful language during his opening round match, admits he’s showing signs of maturity.

“I think last year, the year before, I probably would have been probably still out on the court right now, could be losing that match,” he said in his post-match press conference.

In Tsonga’s second round, experience prevailed over youth as the French world No. 15 came back from 2-5 down in the fifth set to outlast Canadian tennis Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5 in a three-hour 37-minute tug of war.

Playing just the second five-set match of his career, Shapovalov, 18, couldn’t seal the deal but still earned the praise of the legendary Rod Laver, who tweeted after the match:

The left-handed Next Gen star, who sports an attacking one-handed backhand, won the ATP Star of Tomorrow and Most Improved Player awards in 2017, earned the respect of Tsonga, who said after the match: “I think he deserved to win also today, but I was also courageous and I did my job at the end. I played well. I think I deserve it, too.”

Kyrgios has long expressed his admiration for the 50th-ranked Shapovalov and tips him for great things in the future.

“I think Denis is going to be one of the stars of the game,” said Kyrgios, who was Shapovalov’s team-mate on Team World at the inaugural Laver Cup last September. “He’s showing signs. Obviously it’s not easy to be in that position in the first place. He’ll learn from it. I’m sure he’ll start closing out matches like that soon enough.”

Tsonga, a 32-year-old who became a father last year, knows what to expect from his showdown with Kyrgios. He is a decade older than his opponent but is not daunted by the task at hand.

“Like today. He’s got the fire in the arms,” said Tsonga.

“I’m very excited about it. It’s good to play against those guys. They are, for sure, the present, but also the future of tennis. Yeah, I played so many guys when I was young like them. I remember I played Tim Henman in US Open. I played Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt, so many guys like this, of different generation. So it’s always good to play against them and compare our tennis to their tennis.”

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Rafael Nadal urges Australian Open organisers to close stadium roof during heat wave

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Rafael Nadal is urging Australian Open organisers to protect the players and close the stadium roofs during matches if the expected heat wave that is set to hit Melbourne is deemed extreme.

The world No. 1, who claimed a convincing 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4) win over Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer to reach the third round on Wednesday, said he’ll be practicing indoors on Thursday to avoid the tough hot and humid conditions of Melbourne.

Temperatures are expected to rise over 40°C over the next two days and Nadal hopes officials at the tournament make the right decisions when it comes to the safety of the players. Three of the courts at Melbourne Park have retractable roofs, which would allow matches to continue irrespective of the weather conditions.

“Well, only thing that I hope, if is extreme conditions, I hope the organisation puts the roof. That’s all. I think is a health issue. Even I like sometimes play with hot. When is too much, becomes dangerous for the health,” said Nadal.

“I would not like to see here retirements. Conditions that create a bad show for the crowd. The crowd is suffering to there. In the courts that we have the roof, why not put the roof when the conditions are so extreme?

“By the way, I going to practice indoor tomorrow.”

The Australian Open’s ‘Extreme Heat Policy’ dictates that the decision to suspend play “is made at the referee’s discretion”.

“A roof will only be closed because of extreme heat if a decision has been made by the referee to suspend the completion or commencement of matches on the outside courts,” says a statement on the tournament’s official website.

Nadal got broken while serving for the match against Mayer on Wednesday but was otherwise untroubled during his two-hour 38-minute victory. He next takes on Bosnian No. 28 seed Damir Dzumhur for a place in the last-16.

Nadal retired ill during his only previous meeting with Dzumhur, in Miami in 2016.

“He improved a lot from there,” Nadal said of Dzumhur.

“He is a tough opponent. He’s a tricky one. He knows how to play tennis very well. He play with the right tactic always. Is a player that don’t going to give you nothing, no? The only way to win is play in a high rhythm than him and try to play aggressive, try to put the highest intensity possible out there. That’s what I going to try. Hope to be ready to make that happen.”

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Caroline Wozniacki 'proud' of heroic comeback against Jana Fett to make Australian Open third round

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A relieved Caroline Wozniacki hailed her greatest comeback Wednesday after saving two match points at 1-5 in the final set to keep her Grand Slam dream alive against little-known Jana Fett.

The number two seed finally prevailed 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 in the second round of the Australian Open on a searing Rod Laver Arena after an epic two hour and 31 minutes battle against the Croat ranked 119th.

“At 5-1, 40-15, I felt, like, I was one foot out of the tournament,” admitted Wozniacki. “She served a great serve down the ‘T’, as well. It was just slightly out. I was kind of lucky.”

The Dane reeled off four points in a row to get to 5-2 and then never looked back, racing through the next five games in just 20 minutes.

It was tough on the plucky 21-year-old Fett who, in sight of the greatest victory of her fledgling career, melted away in the centre court’s heat.

“I felt her tighten up just slightly. I thought to myself, you know what, at this point, make her win it,” added the world number two.

“When I got to 5-2, I said, OK, I’m still alive. Just try and stay aggressive. That was that.”

Asked by reporters if this was the greatest comeback of her long career, in her 43rd Grand Slam tournament, Wozniacki was unequivocal.

“Yeah, definitely. I’m very proud of the way I came back,” the 27-year-old former number one said.

“It was very hard, and she was playing well,” she added of Fett who was in the second round of a Slam for the first time.

“All of a sudden seeing myself down, almost out of the tournament, I started playing the tennis that I wanted to play.”

After being a point away from becoming the latest big-name casualty in the bottom half of a draw that has become a seeds graveyard, Wozniacki was emotional straight after.

“That was crazy, I don’t how I got back the in the match,” she said.

Wozniacki reeled off 10 points in a row from two match points down to ignite her recovery.

“Experience was crucial,” she said. “I think she suddenly realised at 5-1 what was happening and I just had to attack and take advantage of it.”

On Monday fifth seed Venus Williams, 10th seed CoCo Vandeweghe and 13th seed and reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens all made early exits, meaning the bottom half of the draw is now wide open.

Wozniacki will continue her quest for a maiden Grand Slam title in the third round on Friday against Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands who beat American Nicole Gibbs 6-7 (3), 6-0.

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