In a match filled with big hitting and displays of emotion from two of the most promising young stars on the ATP World Tour, Nick Kyrgios required six match points to defeat Alexander Zverev 6-4, 6-7(9), 6-3 under the lights on Thursday to reach the semi-finals of the Miami Open presented by Itau.
“I respect his game. He's beaten some of the best players in the world. I know that I can't bring 75 or 80 per cent of my game. I have to bring 100 per cent,” said Kyrgios. “That's what I did today and I got over the line.”
The 12th seed will play Roger Federer on Friday for a place in the final. Kyrgios won their lone FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting in 2015, prevailing in a third-set tie-breaker on the clay courts of Madrid. He is 12-17 lifetime against Top 10 opponents and 4-6 against the Big Four. Kyrgios clearly relishes the big stages against the world's best players, as evidenced by scoring more Top 10 wins than any current player 21-and-under on the ATP World Tour.
“He's playing incredible at the moment. He's had a great year. He obviously looks very healthy and is moving very, very good,” said Kyrgios. “I'm not going to think about it too much at the moment. I'm going to serve big and play big. That's my game style that I've had success with, so that's what I'm going to bring.
The first set featured plenty of the flashy hitting that Kyrgios is known for, including a pair of tweeners in a single point at 2-2. But the Aussie also knew when it was time down to get down to business, grabbing the lone break of serve in the set at 4-4 and holding in the next game to grab the early advantage.
It appeared Kyrgios could do no wrong as he opened the second set with a stunning passing shot from between his legs. But Zverev had plenty of his own brilliant shotmaking and got the crowd involved with his ability to chase down shots from every part of the court. Both players traded comfortable service holds throughout the second set to force a tie-break.
Striking his forehand with authority, it appeared Kyrgios would wrap up the victory after jumping to a 6/4 lead, but he gifted both match points back with a pair of errors from the baseline. The Aussie saved a set point down 6/7 with an ace and soon earned his third match point up 8/7, but Zverev erased it by chasing down a drop shot and ripping a backhand pass, raising his arms in the air to the crowd as they gave him a standing ovation.
A gorgeous topspin lob from the German set up his third set point at 10/9. In a stunning end to a set that already seemed to have everything, Kyrgios shockingly hit a lazy tweener in response to a lob from Zverev on set point. The attempt at the highlight reel found its way into the bottom of the net and Zverev pumped his fist at bringing the match to a deciding set.
Although some may have anticipated Kyrgios wilting after missing a golden opportunity to close out the match, he regrouped strongly and hit a crushing forehand to secure a break of serve and a 4-2 lead in the second set. The Aussie appeared to reach for his left knee in between a few points, but the ailment didn't stop him from controlling most of the baseline rallies late in the match.
True to his character this fortnight, Zverev refused to go away quietly. He saved a fourth and fifth match point down 3-5 with an overhead winner and brilliant high backhand volley, respectively. But Kyrgios was not to be denied, hitting a pair of booming first serves to wrap up an epic showdown after two hours and 33 minutes.
Kyrgios improves his FedEx ATP Head2Head over Zverev to 2-0, having also beaten him earlier this month in Indian Wells. The 12th seed is convinced this will be far from their last meeting, though.
“We're going to play a lot more times and he's only going to get better. He's 19 years old, so I've got a couple of years on him as well,” said Kyrgios. “I’ve got to get better as well. He's going to continually make me better.”