Nick Kyrgios claimed a big scalp on Saturday, defeating world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov for the first time to reach his maiden tour-level final in Australia, but insists he will move on quickly as he looks to start the season with a title triumph.
Kyrgios ended the Bulgarian’s title defence in Brisbane with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 success, producing a serving masterclass in the last two sets on Pat Rafter Arena. The talented Aussie next takes on American world No. 47 Ryan Harrison, who halted the heroic run of 18-year-old Alex de Minaur 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 in Saturday’s semi-finals.
“He had a pretty good end to his year. Yeah, it feels good. Obviously, it’s confidence for me,” said Kyrgios of Dimitrov, who won the year-end ATP Finals in London last November.
“But I’ve played a lot of the top players before and I know that I can’t just — you know, it’s just another match for me. I can’t expend too much energy on one match. I’m moving on now and just trying to get ready for tomorrow.”
It was Kyrgios’ third three-set win of the week, and despite some concerns over a knee injury he picked up before his first match in Brisbane, the 22-year-old is hopeful he can seal the deal against Harrison on Sunday.
“I just got a retape today. My knee is feeling okay. But, yes, hopefully it feels good coming into tomorrow,” said Kyrgios, who is looking to become the first Aussie to win the title in Brisbane since Lleyton Hewitt in 2014.
On the prospect of winning the title on home soil, Kyrgios said: “It would be really good. I haven’t won one in Australia before. So, you know, it would pretty cool to win one here, but obviously I’m not going to lose sleep if I lose the final…
“I just remember one year where Rusty (Hewitt) won his final. That was probably the last time I watched a final here. I mean, it would be pretty cool to have my name next to his.”
Dimitrov, who entered the match with a 2-0 head-to-head record lead over Kyrgios, broke serve on the only break point either player could produce in the opening set before the Canberra-native decided to step things up. Kyrgios, ranked 21 in the world, dropped just one point on his first serve in the second set and found a different gear to complete a strong victory.
“I think I played well the first set. And, yeah, after that, there was not much else I could have done, I thought,” admitted Dimitrov.
“I mean, he was just serving unbelievable, just hitting his spots. Like, I even thought at some point was a little bit, like, carelessly hitting the ball, and they were getting in.
“So, again, I could only focus on what I’m doing on my side and, yeah, that was that. I thought, I mean, even when I got broken in the second set, I didn’t think I played a bad game. It was just good shots from him.”
Dimitrov on Kyrgios: He was just serving unbelievable, just hitting his spots. Like, I even thought at some point was a little bit, like, carelessly hitting the ball, and they were getting in.
More here: https://t.co/ncAFgpQRFV pic.twitter.com/gGVKiwKcGx
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 6, 2018
Dimitrov concedes that a care-free Kyrgios is a dangerous opponent, hitting with abandon and difficult to counter.
“There were a lot of balls that were pretty casual, but what can I do? There’s no point for me to get frustrated or pissed whatsoever. You just have to accept it,” said the 26-year-old Dimitrov.
“And we know how he is. He can switch from playing unbelievable to just missing, you know, the easiest shots and all that.
“But obviously I just — there’s not much I can say, to be honest. It was just like there were a lot of balls that I thought he slashed away, and they just got in. And it doesn’t matter what I do. The ball was just, like, coming back and back. It was just like hitting, hitting through, hitting through.
“And also I get that sometimes when there’s no way out, you try to change up the game and break the rhythm of a player. And today just everything, whatever I thought he tried, it was just great. So, I mean, obviously he deserved to win today.”
Harrison, who is the first American to reach the Brisbane final since Andy Roddick in 2011, is looking to pick up a second career title. He entered the tournament with a 0-4 win-loss record in Brisbane before winning four matches this week. He could reach a career-high world No. 40 ranking if he wins the title on Sunday.
Harrison is 0-2 against Kyrgios but is looking to change that around when he takes to the court for his first career final outside the United States.
“Definitely a different milestone for me. Because, again, I had made two finals and one title, but they were both in the States,” said the 25-year-old.
“But as we talked about last year, there’s been a lot of new milestones that have been occurring in my career. And a lot of that’s due to, like we talked about the other day, just a different sort of approach, a ‘not extra added pressure on myself’ approach, which is allowing me to be a little more free, a little more confident, and even under some really difficult circumstances like I was under today with a massive crowd behind him.
“And I’m just able to enjoy playing tennis. Try to produce some of my best tennis.”
Andrey Rublev is enjoying a solid start to the year in the Arabian Gulf.
The Russian secured fifth place in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship end of December, showing good form against Roberto Bautista Agut and Pablo Carreno Busta in his two matches in Abu Dhabi before heading to Doha where he is contesting the final against Gael Monfils on Saturday.
Sport360 caught up with Rublev in Abu Dhabi and put his language skills to the test. Let’s see how Rublev fares in our Arabic test.
The American 23-time Grand Slam winner made a tentative return at an Abu Dhabi exhibition late last month, losing to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Prior to that her last competitive match was at the Australian Open final almost a year ago, which she won despite being two months pregnant, memorably beating sister Venus in the decider.
Since then, she has given birth to her first child and married Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian at a star-studded wedding, where guests included Beyonce and reality TV star Kim Kardashian.
“After competing in Abu Dhabi I realised that although I am super close, I’m not where I personally want to be,” the 36-year-old said in a statement.
“My coach and team always said ‘only go to tournaments when you are prepared to go all the way’.
“I can compete, but I don’t want to just compete, I want to do far better than that and to do so, I will need a little more time.
“With that being said, and even though I am disappointed about it, I’ve decided not to compete in the Australian Open this year,” she added.
Her withdrawal deprives the opening Grand Slam of the year of another major star, after former world number one Andy Murray and Japan’s Kei Nishikori both pulled out injured on Thursday.
In Abu Dhabi, Williams was clearly sluggish and had problems with her serve. She also stuck mostly to the baseline and only twice charged the net.
Despite this, she made it clear afterwards that she missed being on court and was desperate to play at Melbourne Park, where she has been crowned champion seven times.
– ‘True champion’ –
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley expressed his admiration for her efforts to return to the game she loves.
“The true champion Serena is has been demonstrated in the Herculean efforts she has made over the past few months in her desire to play the Australian Open,” he said.
“It was never going to be good enough for her to just compete, she wants to give herself the best chance to win.
“I’ve been in constant contact with Serena and her team and know this is why she has pushed it and pushed it until the eleventh hour to make her final decision.”
Few players have successfully bounced back after giving birth, and even fewer have managed to go on to win Grand Slam titles.
Williams can look to Margaret Court, Kim Clijsters, and Evonne Goolagong Cawley as those who achieved the feat as mothers.
A key motivation for her is to match Court, who boasts 24 major titles and is renowned as the most successful player in Grand Slam history, but this must now wait until the French Open at the earliest.
The Australian Open starts on January 15, with a host of top names either out or battling to be fit.
Murray has returned home after failing to recover from a hip injury sustained last year, while Nishikori has been on the sidelines since August due to a torn tendon in his right wrist.
World number one Rafael Nadal and six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic also have injury issues, having yet to play a competitive match this year.
Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Johanna Konta, and Garbine Muguruza are among others either on the comeback trail or fighting to be ready.
The irrepressible Roger Federer appears to be one of the few top names to be fully fit, leading Switzerland into the Hopman Cup final with another masterclass against top-10 rival Jack Sock in Perth on Thursday.
Provided by AFP Sport