NEW YORK — Nick Kyrgios sat in the dressing room at Arthur Ashe Stadium after the end Daniel Medvedev‘s title defense at the US Open and remains No. 1 in the rankings and felt a mixture of pride and relief.
Proud of the great serve that saw off Medvedev 7-6 (11), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Sunday night, the latest in a series of career-changing results taking Kyrgios to his first quarter-final in Flushing Meadows brought after heels to his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon.
Proudly, he said, getting off the pitch from “some really tough mental situations” and “some really scary places,” which he first revealed in February. Proudly, he went on to have managed to distance himself from “feeling so depressed all the time, having so much self-pity.”
And relief, Kyrgios explained as he played with the grey Boston Celtics hat he wore to his post-game press conference because he could pull through when the lights were brightest and the stakes were highest “because there’s just so much pressure, every time I go on the pitch, so much Expectation, so much unpredictability of what I can do.”
23rd-seeded Kyrgios, a 27-year-old from Australia, had previously never managed to advance through the third round of the US Open, having gone 4-0 at that point in the past. He’d also never managed to translate his undoubted skills into a great game with any semblance of the consistency he’s been showing lately.
“I’m just happy to finally be able to show my talent to New York,” said Kyrgios after delivering 21 aces and using his trademark go-for-broke style against Medvedev. “I haven’t had many great trips here.”
He reached his first Grand Slam semi-final and then his first Grand Slam final at the All England Club in July before losing Novak Djokovic in the title fight. Then in August in Washington, Kyrgios won his first ATP title in three years. A win over Medvedev at a hard court tournament in Montreal followed shortly thereafter. He has been leading the ATP Tour in match wins since June.
Medvedev compared the way Kyrgios played on Sunday to the level regularly achieved by Kyrgios Rafael Nadalwho owns 22 Grand Slam titles and plays his fourth-round match against American on Monday Frances Tiafoeand Djokovic, who has 20 majors but is not at the US Open because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19 and has therefore not been allowed to travel to the United States.
“I didn’t miss much. Didn’t really surprise me,” said Medvedev. “If he plays like that until the end of the tournament, he has every chance of winning it.”
Kyrgios is still Kyrgios throughout a game and was again on Sunday night.
Unsure of the relevant rule, he lost a point running around the net to hit a ball that would land wide out and then celebrated what he thought was a great game by raising a finger, to make an “I’m number 1” gesture.
During his on-pitch interview, Kyrgios sheepishly told the crowd: “I still can’t believe I played a stupid game here. I thought it was legal. It’s going to be throughout the SportsCenter, so I’m going to do it [look] Like an idiot.”
He yelled at his guest box. He argued with the chair umpire and drew a warning for swearing. He furiously hit a ball that bounced off a blue wall behind a baseline, almost flying over it and landing amid spectators.
Medvedev, meanwhile, had played well enough to win all nine sets he played in Week 1 and seemed poised to become the first man to win consecutive trophies in New York since Roger Federer snagged the last of his five in a row from 2004 to 2008.
But the 26-year-old Russian said he had a sore throat and generally felt “a little sick”, which he attributed to excessive air conditioning in the US, which he thinks is “just crazy”.
Now Medvedev – whose win over Djokovic in the 2021 US Open final ended Djokovic’s bid for the first calendar year Grand Slam in men’s tennis since 1969 – will relinquish the top spot. Three players have the chance to replace him there: Nadal, Carlo Alcaraz and Kasper Ruud.
“I feel like there was another message tonight that placements don’t matter,” said Kyrgios, who will face the No. 27 Karen Khachanov for a spot in the semifinals.
Earlier on Sunday, Ruud continued his bid to become the first No. 1 player from Norway, posting a 6-1 6-2 6-7(4) 6-2 win Corentin Moutet.
Ruud, a 23-year-old from Oslo who also reached the quarterfinals of the US Open for the first time in his career, became the first Norwegian to reach third and fourth rounds at the Open. The number 5 must reach the championship finals to at least have a chance of becoming the top-ranked player in men’s tennis.
Ruud, currently ranked No. 7 in the world, meets it Matteo Berretini in the quarterfinals. Berrettini, the Wimbledon 2021 runner-up, advanced through a 3-6 7-6(2) 6-3 4-6 6-2 win Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
Kyrgios has said if he had won Wimbledon he might not have turned up at the US Open at all. If he managed to win a Grand Slam title, he thought, the motivation to earn one would wane.
Just before this tournament started, Kyrgios sat down with a small group of reporters and spoke about missing home – his brother recently had a child; his mother was ill – and how he can’t wait to return to Australia after months away. So his first-round match would be a “win-win,” he said: “If I win, it’s more money and another great result. If I lose, I get to go home.”
On Sunday night, Kyrgios was asked if he still thinks that way.
“Three more matches, then we’ll never have to play tennis again,” came the reply.
And then Kyrgios smiled widely.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.