Limping, gallant and feeding off the supportive energy of a partisan crowd, Nick Kyrgios survived two match points and five sets of electric tennis to advance to the third round of the Australian Open.
The Australian beat France’s 29th-seed Ugo Humbert 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 on a hot and humid night at John Cain Arena.
It was not quite an epic, and certainly not a classic but, as is always the case with Kyrgios, it was pure entertainment from start to finish — three-and-a-half hours of sparkling tennis and as much grinning as cursing.
Down a break in the fourth set, Kyrgios looked a beaten man but he drew something from within himself to force a successful tiebreak and then galloped home in the decider.
The only time the pair had previously met — in Acapulco a year ago — Kyrgios dropped a set, retired hurt with a wrist injury and faced a chorus of boos from a crowd he called “disrespectful”. It proved to be his final match of 2020.
His body fared only a little better this time.
After his straight sets victory in the first round, Kyrgios said simply: “I feel old.”
At times on Wednesday night, he looked it, limping about like an old man, his left knee clearly causing him discomfort.
But those who say he crumbles under pressure, or when circumstances go against him, will have seen a new side to the world number 47.
The rangy and bow-legged Humbert is 22 and rising. His best result at a grand slam was a fourth-round run at Wimbledon two years ago. But Kyrgios called him one of the most improved players on the tour in the lead-up to this encounter, and at times in this contest he proved it.
It was a match full of the best and worst of Kyrgios.