Australia number one Nick Kyrgios blew a two-set lead and failed to convert a fifth-set match point before slumping out of his home grand slam with a 1-6 6-7(1) 6-4 6-2 10-8 defeat at the hands of Andreas Seppi on Wednesday.
The Italian, who blew a similar lead to Kyrgios on the same court in the fourth round two years ago, saved the match point with a sizzling forehand down the line and his 16th ace sealed the upset of the 14th seed after a three-hour thriller.
“Maybe it was meant to be?” said Seppi. “I couldn’t find my rhythm at the start, but I kept fighting and I played very well in the important moments in the end.”
Kyrgios, returning to tennis at the Australian Open after a ban – for not trying at the Shanghai Masters – ended his 2016 season, could only rue a big chance blown.
“It’s obviously disappointing. But it was ultimately a pretty fun match. He’s a great guy and he deserved it, so… I’m not going to beat myself up about it,” said Kyrgios.
“I’m disappointed. I’m okay. Like, I’m all right. You know, the world keeps spinning. I lost one match.”
Looking fit, determined and committed, the 21-year-old had appeared to be coasting to victory in the third set of his contest on Hisense Arena.
A warning for swearing had been the only reminder of the more controversial side of the Australian’s character until Seppi broke his serve with a sizzling forehand return to take a 5-4 lead.
Kyrgios tossed his racket into the air as he walked back to slump into his chair disconsolate, the confidence and focus he had shown in the first 90 minutes of the contest gone.
World number 89 Seppi took full advantage, holding comfortably to take the third set before unleashing his silky strokes from the back of the court to race away with the fourth in 25 minutes.
Roared on by a crowd that had long ago shed any pretence of neutrality, Kyrgios grabbed three break points in the eighth game of the decider only for Seppi to save them all.
Kyrgios was now looking tired, keeping his movement at the back of the court to a minimum and relying on his shots, including one “tweener” to stay in the match.
The 32-year-old pounced to break for 6-5 and, while Kyrgios took advantage of some nerves to strike straight back, that only delayed his misery for a few more thrilling games before Seppi secured a third-round meeting with Belgian Steve Darcis.
Kyrgios said a knee injury had bothered him during match and he had learned a valuable lesson about working on his conditioning in the off-season.
“It’s on me,” he said. “Did a couple things in the off-season that I’m probably not going to do next time. My body’s not in good enough shape. You live and you learn.
“Maybe (I should) not play as much basketball. Actually take my pre-season seriously.”