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McDonald Earns 2021 Comeback Player Of The Year: 'It's Extremely Rewarding'

  • Posted: Dec 14, 2021

American Mackenzie McDonald, who underwent right hamstring surgery in June 2019, has been named the Comeback Player of the Year in the 2021 ATP Awards following a season in which he climbed to new heights.

Despite the physical toll of recovering from his hamstring injury, McDonald ascended to a career-high No. 54 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in 2021.

“It’s extremely rewarding. For me it’s a massive accomplishment, honestly. At the end of the year I was hoping I was going to be nominated, I got that and then actually winning it is really cool for me,” McDonald said. “It was a really big comeback and I feel like I put in all the hard work. When I was going through the rehab process I did everything I possibly could to get myself back.

“Doing [the] extra [work] and playing good tennis this year paid off. It is very rewarding for me.”

Following his surgery, rehab was a slow process. Last year, McDonald fell as low as World No. 272.

“I came back and had maybe two months of playing last year until right before Indian Wells. I really didn’t find my groove at all during that time and that was a little disheartening,” McDonald said. “Over the course of the COVID-19 [pandemic suspension of the Tour], it gave me a chance to keep practising, playing and working on my body and my game. I felt like I was slowly getting it back once the Tour started [last August].

“With COVID there were a lot of challenges for me with the comeback, because climbing the rankings was so difficult. I was in such a weird position not having points from 2019, so honestly it was a big uphill battle to really break in and even get to the Top 100.”

The American began 2021 at World No. 194, but he showed good form early on when he advanced to the fourth round at the Australian Open for the first time. McDonald won an ATP Challenger Tour title in Nur-Sultan and qualified for Roland Garros and Wimbledon, but he had still not returned to the Top 100.

“I was sitting at No. 120 for months… it was a really difficult time,” McDonald said. “What it took this year was a lot more, I feel, than normal, which makes me even prouder that I was able to fight through all that adversity as well.”

McDonald’s biggest result came at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., where he advanced to his maiden ATP Tour final. The Californian battled through tough opponents — including Nick Kyrgios, Ilya Ivashka and Kei Nishikori — to make the championship match, where he pushed Jannik Sinner for nearly three hours before falling in three sets.

“I feel like it was a great end of 2021 for me, having that be my start for 2022. Now I feel like I’m back,” McDonald, who reached World No. 54 in November, said. “I really feel like I’ve come back, so now I can do some damage this next year. That’s what I want to do, capitalise even more. I want to accomplish a lot for next year as well.”

Mackenzie McDonald
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/Citi Open

The 26-year-old is aiming to become a seed at the majors, win ATP Tour titles, and make various improvements in his game that he is working on with his team. For now, as McDonald continues preparing for next season, he is happy to celebrate being recognised as Comeback Player of the Year.

“There were some difficult times with it and obviously I had to go through that with my team,” McDonald said. “But having this now as a reward is pretty cool.”

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Marcus Daniell Named 2021 Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Of The Year

  • Posted: Dec 14, 2021

New Zealand’s Marcus Daniell receives the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award in the 2021 ATP Awards, joining an illustrious list of recipients that includes Ashe himself, former South African President Nelson Mandela, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Daniell wrote a My Point essay for about how much the award means for him, how he became involved in the charity world, why he is so passionate about philanthropy, his organisation, High Impact Athletes, and more.

* * * * *

Marcus Daniell
Photo Credit: ATP Tour/Getty Images/Nora Stankovic
When I was told I was this year’s Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award recipient I was blown away. It is incredibly humbling to look down the list of previous recipients and see who has received this honour. Their many accomplishments both on and off the court are staggering.

My journey in philanthropy began in 2015. It was the first year I focussed on doubles and it was also the first year I made money playing tennis. I was able to put some savings away in the bank at the end of the year and with that little bit of financial security came this really strong urge to give back.

It never sat perfectly with me how self-absorbed professional sport can be. You take from the world, especially as a tennis player, where everything is about defeating the people around you. I’m a competitive person, but that isn’t all of who I want to be off the tennis court. I really wanted to give back and balance the scales, I just didn’t know how.

I had the same doubts that pretty much everyone has about the charities I’d grown up around. I didn’t know how they were using my money or how much good my donations were doing. So I jumped on Google to search how I could best give back, and that’s where I first came across the effective altruism movement. One of the ways EA taught me how I could make a positive impact in the world was by earning to give. Essentially, the more money I earned playing tennis, the more I could give away to people who needed it 50,000 times more than I do. It was a light-bulb moment. Pair that with giving to the most cost-effective and impactful charities in the world and you have a winning combo.

I made a donation that year, but it didn’t feel like quite enough. So early in 2016 I decided to pledge one per cent of my annual income to charity, and it added a whole extra world of meaning to my tennis life. You always want to win more matches, but with this pledge I now wanted to win more matches, not only for personal progress, but also because I knew that with every extra win I would be helping the world more. Each year since then I’ve bumped up my pledge and it has really given back to me. It’s one of the beautiful paradoxes of charity – helping others makes us happy.

Now I’m committed to donating at least 10 per cent of my earnings to the most effective charities in the world for the rest of my life, and I have never felt better. I am giving what for me is a pretty significant amount of money each year, but I feel like it pays back and then some. I don’t need a fancy car or an expensive watch or even an extra barista-made coffee each day to be happy. Donating that 10 per cent is not going to decrease my happiness, but it is going to make thousands of lives a whole lot better. I take deep pleasure in knowing that every success I have in my working life will ultimately end up changing or even saving lives.

Marcus Daniell
Photo Credit: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images
There were times in my career when being able to do that seemed highly unlikely. In 2013, when I was 23, I was playing some Futures events in Asia. I was winning matches here and there, but I was absolutely miserable. I remember winning a match in a third-set tie-break and feeling absolutely nothing. No joy, no triumph, just numb. The next day there was a big earthquake about 100 kilometres away and people died. I was just in a really dark space and was thinking, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I doing something that I don’t enjoy?’

That was one of the lowest points of my career. I came very close to quitting then and there. A few weeks later, after losing a close match on the grass, I sat down in England with my coach, David Sammel, and he gave me a chat that has become known at his academy as the Chapel of Bullshit. He told me that I was just a tourist on the tennis court because I thought that I was trying, but because my mind wasn’t 100 per cent there, it was fake trying. I was worshipping at the Chapel of Bullshit because I would use a variety of excuses to explain why I wasn’t 100 per cent there. He bollocked me for two hours straight, and it worked. The talk landed really hard but really well, especially after that recent experience where I was a tourist in my own body.

I’ve had bad injuries and those have been low points, but this wasn’t an injury. I just had zero love for tennis at that point and then was on the receiving end of this bollocking that made something click resoundingly in my head. I realised that if I was not going to be 100 per cent there mentally, there was no point in being on a tennis court at all. This realisation led to a pretty rapid improvement.

This year I had the biggest victory of my life, winning the Olympic bronze medal for New Zealand in men’s doubles with Michael Venus. But these days there is far more to me in life than just winning and losing. Last year when the tour paused for COVID-19 I had more time to think than I’d ever had. I was thinking about my place in the world, the impact I wanted to make and the legacy I wanted to leave. I took an effective altruism course online through Coursera and it reinvigorated my passion for how I could make more impact as an individual. That led to the realisation that I could be a better advocate, and I thought that the best way to do so would be to start an organisation that could help educate others and bring them along on the journey of giving effectively.

Marcus Daniell
Daniell poses with High Impact Athletes Advisor Peter Singer. Photo Credit: Marcus Daniell.
So on 30 November 2020, I founded High Impact Athletes. I didn’t know any athletes who had heard of the effective altruism movement before and I believed it was an extremely powerful and compelling message. We should think extremely carefully about where we donate to, because some charities can be literally 1,000 times more impactful than others. The idea is to get as many people in professional sports — and the world — on board as possible and use our platform to spread the message that where you give matters immensely.

HIA already has dozens of donors, pledgers and ambassadors, from world-heavyweight boxing champs to Olympic figure skaters, from race walkers to tennis players. And we’re growing faster and faster. After all, the more people you can bring with you on the giving journey, the more good is done in the world.

Learn More About High Impact Athletes

Most importantly, I’d like to truly thank all of the athletes who have come on board High Impact Athletes. It’s the group, the collective that’s really making an impact. If I could, I would split this award among everyone who has gotten involved and showed such extraordinary generosity and support.

I am deeply passionate about High Impact Athletes and what we’re building. I hope that I can use whatever recognition comes from this award to really grow HIA and bring more athletes on board, because the larger we make this snowball, the more positive impact we can make in the world.

Here’s to doing good.

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Nadal Survives Shapovalov Scare To Top ATP Comebacks Of 2021

  • Posted: Dec 14, 2021

In tennis you always have to win the last point to claim victory. Until then, your opponent is always in with a chance, even if they are heavily trailing. With the margins in the sport so small, the tempo of matches can quickly change.

Yesterday we looked at three of the best ATP Tour comebacks of the season. Now, we will complete the top five with the two best ATP Tour match comebacks of 2021, before turning attention to the best Grand Slam comebacks of 2021 from Wednesday.

2) BNP Paribas Open, Round of 16, Grigor Dimitrov d. Daniil Medvedev 4-6, 6-4, 6-3
Grigor Dimitrov had not reached the quarter-finals at an ATP Masters 1000 event all season, and the drought looked set to continue in Indian Wells. Daniil Medvedev was cruising towards a comfortable straight-sets fourth-round victory in California against the Bulgarian.

The Russian was the more consistent of the pair as he dictated from the baseline with his flat groundstrokes to march to a 6-4, 4-1 lead. But with Medvedev within touching distance of a meeting against Hubert Hurkacz, Dimitrov changed up tactics, swinging more freely and hitting powerful and precise backhands to force his opponent into errors.

The Bulgarian also capitalised on Medvedev’s serving struggles — the World No. 2 made just 34 per cent of his first serves in the second set — to roar back, winning five straight games to level.

With momentum now on his side in the decider, Dimitrov, who hit 25 winners in the match, continued to play aggressively and frustrate an out-of-sorts Medvedev by approaching the net effectively to close out points and seal victory.

“He is such a tough player and competitor,” Dimitrov said. “Over the past year, I have played him a few times and haven’t been able to find a way. But today, I just felt something at 1-4 and I calmed myself down and started to make better decisions and started to control the pace of the game, which I really believed helped me. In the end it was just very solid and smart play.”

1) Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Round of 16, Rafael Nadal d. Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3)
It is an unfamiliar sight to see Rafael Nadal trailing on clay. It is even rarer to see the 13-time Roland Garros champion being dismantled on it. But that was exactly what was happening in the third round at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, where Denis Shapovalov led Nadal 6-3, 3-0 on Campo Centrale.

The Canadian flew out of the blocks and stormed to take the opening set, dictating with his heavy forehand as he outmanoeuvred Nadal. Shapovalov then gained a break to march into a 3-0 lead in the second set, with the finishing line now seemingly in sight.

However, defeating Nadal on clay was never going to be so simple and it proved so as the 35-year-old held firm to fend off another break point and hold for 1-3. It marked a turning point in the match as the Spaniard rolled off four consecutive games, eventually letting out a roar as he clinched the set.

While many expected Nadal to race away to victory in the decider, Shapovalov had other ideas, moving 3-1 ahead before he was again pegged back. At 5-6 down, Nadal was in bigger danger than ever, with Shapovalov fighting his way to two match points. However, a missed backhand from the 22-year-old and a forehand winner from Nadal kept him alive, and he used his experience in the tie-break to secure his epic victory after three hours and 27 minutes.

“[It] is an important victory for me [to] be able to win matches like today, three hours and 27 [minutes], in the Barcelona final three hours and 38 [minutes], long matches,” Nadal said. “To be able to win these kinds of matches against young players gives me confidence with my body.”

Nadal would go on to defeat Novak Djokovic in the final to earn his 10th trophy in Rome.

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Spanish Stars Pay Homage To Santana, Who Inspired Generations

  • Posted: Dec 14, 2021

Manolo Santana, a pioneer in tennis and great inspiration for Spanish sport as a whole, passed away on Saturday aged 83. The news came in an announcement from the Mutua Madrid Open, the tournament where he was Honorary President and which he directed from 2002 to 2018, turning the Spanish capital into a key stop on the ATP Tour.

Known as one of the great pioneers of tennis in Spain, Santana made his name by paving the way for other Spanish greats to follow in his footsteps. The Madrid native reached No. 1 in the world in 1965 and won four Grand Slam singles titles: Roland Garros (1961, 1964), US Open (1965) and Wimbledon (1966). These were unforgettable feats for a country with few notable achievements on Tour.

Having grown up in a working-class family, the son of Braulio, an electrician, and Mercedes, housewife, Manolo managed to use his passion for the sport to forge a path towards the elite of tennis. His perseverance enabled him to overcome hurdles that previously seemed insurmountable for Spaniards, growing the popularity of tennis before the professional era.

He holds a place among the greatest icons of Spanish sport and his social presence remained intact into modern times, as evidenced by the Manolo Santana Stadium, the Mutua Madrid Open’s centre court. The clay-court ATP Masters 1000, the biggest of all the tournaments held in Spain, is keeping the Madrid native’s legacy alive.

The outpouring of affection on social media was immediate. Countless players from the circuit have paid their tributes to the legend, whose spontaneity, warmth and contagious joy made him one of the best-loved figures in the game.

“I’ve just received the terrible news that our great Manolo Santana has passed away,” wrote Rafael Nadal. “As I have said many times in the past: thank you so much for what you did for our country and for paving the way for so many. You were also a role model, a friend and someone who was close to everyone. We will miss you, Manolo. You will always be unique and special. Thoughts and strength to your family at this time. We will never forget you!”

“Rest in peace, Manolo. You were always the best,” added an emotional David Ferrer, whom Manolo was with in Madrid when he retired from the professional game in 2019. “Thank you for showing us how to achieve our dreams and above all for being such a special person.”

Alex Corretja sent an affectionate message, highlighting Santana’s greatest virtues. “Manolo, your personality, your sense of humour, your proximity, your affection and, above all, your friendship, is something I will never forget. Thank you for all your advice and for showing me a unique vision of life. I will miss you so much, my friend.”

“Today we said goodbye to Manolo. A great tennis player and friend. Spanish tennis owes him so much,” offered Juan Carlos Ferrero. “Thanks to him, it became popular in Spain. He has supported all tennis players and tennis lovers since his beginnings. Without him, I would certainly not have started out in this sport. You’re great and unforgettable. Rest in peace! We will try to follow the path you laid for us.”

“Rest in peace, Manolo. Thank you for being such a magnificent person,” wrote Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. “I will always be grateful to you for your advice when I was little. Thank you for what you did for Spanish tennis and for showing the young players the way. We have lost a legend. We will miss you so much.”

Photo Credit: Spanish Royal Household via Getty Images

King Felipe of Spain is accompanied by Claudia Rodriguez, spouse of Manolo Santana, as he visits Santana’s funeral chapel at Caja Magica on in Madrid, Spain.

“Today, tennis and sport are in mourning for the loss of Manolo Santana,” lamented Fernando Verdasco. “My great friend, it is so sad to hear this terrible news. You were always there in the good times, but even more so in the bad ones. You were one of the few people who wrote to me when I lost an important match. I’m going to miss you a lot, but you will always be in mine and everyone’s hearts. You have left a unique and unmatchable legacy.”

Spanish players from the WTA Tour also extolled Santana, who was a key figure in making the Mutua Madrid Open a mixed tournament in 2009.

“I was so sad today to receive the news of his passing,” said Garbine Muguruza. “All of us have always had a very close relationship with him, because that’s how he was, warm, friendly, always prepared to share his experiences. He always looked out for me, he was one of those people that sent messages of encouragement at good times and bad. He was a role model to all of us, a pioneer in Spanish tennis,” wrote the current World No. 3. “We will miss him so much, especially at the Grand Slams, where he would always come and see me, with his eternal optimism. All of my love and my sincerest condolences to his family and friends.”

“Manolo gave this sport so much. He was greatly appreciated and people had so much affection for him. He was someone that was always ready to offer his friendship,” remembered Carla Suarez Navarro . “I was lucky to meet him many times, above all at the tournament in Madrid. I would like to send my support to his family and loved ones. People should know that he will be remembered with great affection.”

Players from every generation have memories of him. Even the 24-year-old Paula Badosa. “It’s a very sad day for tennis, especially for Spanish tennis,” she said. “To lose a legend like Manolo, who has always been there for all of us and has done so much for tennis, is so sad. He will be greatly missed.”

“A very sad day. We have lost Manolo, a pioneer and legend of our sport,” noted Anabel Medina. “I will always remember his mischievousness, affection and warmth. His anecdotes will always stay with me. My sincerest condolences to his family and friends.”

Conchita Martinez, the first Spanish player to follow in Manolo’s footsteps by winning on the grass of Wimbledon, also wanted to share some words of affection, writing: “It’s a very sad day for Spanish sport. We have lost a great friend, a legend and a pioneer in our sport. Manolo, we will miss you so much.

“It has always been a pleasure to share moments with you at the great tournaments such as Wimbledon, Roland Garros, Rome and, of course, Madrid, which you were linked to until your final days. It was amazing to connect with you. You were passionate about our sport, you forged the way for all of us that came after you. We will be eternally grateful to you.”

“It is very sad news for our tennis,” Lara Arruabarrena said. “He was a legend and he paved the way for so many. Whenever I saw him in Madrid, he was great and always full of encouragement.”

Santana’s legacy is replete with huge admiration on the court and unanimous affection away from it. May he rest in peace.

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Thiem, Lopez In Best Grand Slam Comebacks Of 2021

  • Posted: Dec 14, 2021

The past two days, has reflected on the most memorable ATP Tour match comebacks of 2021. Now, continuing our review of the 2021 season, we look at the best Grand Slam comebacks of 2021, featuring Felicano Lopez, who rolled back the years, and Dominic Thiem, who edged Nick Kyrgios in Australia. 

5) Australian Open, Second Round, Feliciano Lopez d. Lorenzo Sonego 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4

Imagine you are a 19-year-old playing in the very first Grand Slam match of your career, facing a fellow countryman you have idolised. It happened to Feliciano Lopez at Roland Garros in 2001 against Carlos Moya, only three years removed from his breakthrough title there.

“I think I got killed in the first round, if I’m not wrong,” Lopez remembered two decades later.

He wasn’t wrong; Lopez managed to win all of five games against Moya. Don’t feel too sorry for the strapping Spaniard because he put together a terrific career. This year’s Australian Open was his 75th consecutive appearance in a major draw – an all-time record for both genders he would extend to 78 at the US Open. It’s a staggering accomplishment of consistent excellence – sometimes literally.

Heading into the season’s first major, that unbroken run was in jeopardy. Not only was the global pandemic wreaking havoc with travel plans, but Lopez’ wife Sandra had recently given birth to a son, Dario.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to come here,” he said following a first-round victory over Li Tu. “I was until the last minute thinking about what should I do, if I come or if I finally stay home.”

And so the 39-year-old Lopez stepped onto a plane a few days after the birth and, eventually, onto the court for a second-round match against Italian Lorenzo Sonego, who was 30 spots higher at No. 35 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, and 14 years younger. In stifling conditions at Melbourne Park, Lopez promptly lost the first two sets.

Historically, though, Lopez has exhibited a flair for the dramatic. He advanced to four major quarter-finals in his career, including three at Wimbledon, and later that season he would beat world No. 5 Andrey Rublev in a Davis Cup match. When you’ve finished in the Top 100 for 19 consecutive years, you learn not to give in when adversity visits.

“After two sets to love, you don’t expect the 39-year-old guy is going to come back,” Lopez said, charmingly referring to himself in the third-person.


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A post shared by Feliciano Lopez (@felilopezoficial)

But that 39-year-old guy did come back. Playing a more forceful game, he converted the only three break points he was offered, winning each of the final three sets. Exhausted by the effort, he hid his head under a towel as he sobbed.

“To win a match in a Slam for me now is very special,” he said. “If I do it the way I did today, even more. So, to be in the third round now, it’s something very special for me. That’s why I’m very happy today.”

Lopez became the oldest player in nearly a half century to come back and win a major match after suffering a two-set deficit. It was the sixth time he’d done that and, perhaps, he said, the most memorable.

“It was very hard for me to leave my family at home,” he said afterward. “I was kind of emotional about the whole situation in general. Because of the gift life has given me of being able to be in the third round of a Grand Slam at my age. You have to try and make the most of it.

“At almost 40 years of age, I wouldn’t consider coming here in the current situation, if it weren’t for tournaments like this that give me the desire to train every day. That’s what keeps me excited.”

4) US Open First Round, Maxime Cressy d. Pablo Carreno Busta 5-7, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7)
Back in the day, the serve and volley was more often the weapon of choice. First-strike tennis – the ultimate, in-your-face, all-or-nothing aggression. Gradually, though, that one-two gut punch left the game as consistent baseliners became the rule thanks to evolving equipment technology and increasingly slower courts. To the point that the serve and volley today is all but extinct.

On the rare occasions it resurfaces, it can be thrilling to watch – unless, of course, you were Pablo Carreno Busta at this year’s US Open.

Having already dropped the first two sets to the No. 9 seed, two-time US Open semi-finalist and Olympic bronze medalist, qualifier Maxime Cressy starting hitting aces and coming to net. Even when the Spaniard was serving, the 6-foot-6, 185-pound athlete kept chipping and charging forward.

Born in Paris, an American citizen and a four-year player at UCLA, Cressy’s net game was honed in doubles. He and Keegan Smith went 26-0 in 2019 and were NCAA champions. At the relatively late age of 22, Cressy turned professional and two years later he was battling Carreno Busta, leveling the match at 2-sets each.

The match was played in the semi-obscurity of Court 4 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, but as it progressed the crowd grew dramatically. By the time the players had reached the fifth-set tie-break, the court was surrounded by spectators – turned around in seats on adjacent courts, looking through fences – the cheers and chants were deafening.

Ultimately, order seemed to be restored when the heavy favourite ran out to a 6-3 lead, earning four match points. Cressy, ranked No. 151, was not deterred. He won the next two points at net and drew even when Carreno Busta double faulted. Two points later, Cressy saved another match point with a forehand volley and followed it with a service winner. His last rush forward caused Carreno Busta to miss a forehand and Cressy was a 9-7 winner.

To the chants of “Maxime! Maxime!” Cressy wind-milled his long arms and exulted after the biggest win of his career and one of the more memorable upsets in recent years at the US Open.

The statistics, as you might expect, were astonishing. Cressy:

• Stroked 44 aces and 81 winners.
• Won 46 of 70 serve-and-volley points.
• Took 64 of 97 points at net.

Despite all those abbreviated points, the match clocked at 3 hours, 33 minutes. In only the third major tournament of his career, Cressy managed to reach the second round in all of them.

And while he would eventually fall to Nikoloz Basilashvili, for one, giddy, incandescent match, Cressy’s retro performance brought back some serve-and-volley excitement to the game.

3) Australian Open, Third Round, Dominic Thiem d. Nick Kyrgios 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4
Nick Kyrgios, at his flashy, prime-time best on a friendly home court, opposite a Grand Slam champion is must-see theatre, but what if the dramatic stakes were raised even higher? What if there was a clock ticking on such a rousing, pivotal match?

That’s just what happened in the third round of the Australian Open. When Victoria’s state Premier Daniel Andrews ordered a snap, five-day lockdown after a hyper-infectious strain of COVID-19 leaked from an airport quarantine hotel. Tournament organisers informed ticketholders that they would have to leave the grounds by 11:30 p.m. – potentially before the end of Kyrgios’ scheduled match with World No. 3 Dominic Thiem in John Cain Arena.


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After his second-round win over Ugo Humbert, Kyrgios knew he was in for a physical test opposite Thiem. “It already hurts just thinking about it,” he quipped.

Three hours before they met, Kyrgios posted this on Instagram: “Haven’t felt nerves like this in a long time.”

When the start of the match was delayed, with John Cain filled to capacity, the fans probably felt the same way. Based on recent history, this one shouldn’t have been close. Thiem had won his first major, the US Open, in 2020 while Kyrgios elected to stay home in Canberra and not contest a match after a February retirement in Acapulco.

The Australian had lost seven straight matches Top 5 players, but he came out firing against Thiem, breaking him in the first and ninth games to take the first set. When he took the second set, the crowd roared. Somehow, it got louder when Thiem found himself down two break points in the first game of the third set.

“There are easier things than playing Nick at his home tournament on his favourite court,” Thiem said later. “He is a huge player when he is on fire like today. When I was down two break points in the first game of the third set, I was considering the prospect of losing.

“But I kept fighting and I thought there was a chance to turn it around.”

Thiem won the next four points and that momentum carried him to the third set. And the fourth. And the fifth.

The atmosphere, cinematic in a real sense, was electric, with Kyrgios tossing in exquisite drop shots, tweeners and even a few underarm serves. Still, Thiem was steadier in the end – which, fortunately, came just ahead of the imposed curfew.

After three hours, 21 minutes, Thiem was through to the fourth round in Melbourne for the fourth time in five years.

“He’s a hell of a player,” Kyrgios said of Thiem. “He’s so disciplined. He’s so composed. His level doesn’t drop. I’m not disappointed at all. I was 11 months away from the game, and to produce that level and go toe-to-toe with one of the best players in the world, I’m pretty proud.

“It was an amazing atmosphere. The energy out there was special.”

On court, Thiem said, “Since US Open, I know that impossible is nothing.”

Later, he would add, “I always prefer playing in front of a crowd, even if they are for their local hero, but I accepted it. Tonight was epic and it was a great match.”

Read more from our Best Of 2021 series here.

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