Nick Kyrgios of Australia reacts to the crowd during his second round match against Gilles Simon of France on day four of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23 2020. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ CAMERON SPENCER
Nick Kyrgios of Australia reacts to the crowd during his second round match against Gilles Simon of France on day four of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23 2020. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ CAMERON SPENCER

Melbourne — Nick Kyrgios said he steered clear of a “very dark place” after suffering a minor meltdown during his 6-2 6-4 4-6 7-5 win over Gilles Simon in the second round of the Australian Open on Thursday.

The 23rd seed, Australia’s best hope of a men’s champion at Melbourne Park, appeared on course for a straightforward victory with a cushion of two sets and a break against the 35-year-old Frenchman. But things suddenly went awry for him when back-to-back double faults put the set back on service before another error set up a break for the Frenchman to win the third set.

“I definitely lost my way a little. He’s a tough competitor. He knows how to win matches ... I could have gone to a very dark place in the fourth set but I somehow put it away,” said Kyrgios. “That would have been very interesting if it went to a fifth set. I thought I lifted in the fourth. I put my head down. I told myself ... just get to work,” he added.

The Australian managed to regroup in the fourth set and converted his fourth breakpoint at 5-5 to nose ahead and then produced three of his 28 aces to complete the victory with a thunderous roar. He will meet Russia’s Karen Khachanov next.

Kyrgios, who divides opinions for his long rap sheet of indiscretions, needed all the support he could get from a rowdy partisan crowd at the packed Melbourne Arena, his favourite court at his home Grand Slam. “It’s epic. You guys are awesome. That’s why I usually request playing on here as long as I can. It’s such a home feel. You guys really get behind me. I love it,” Kyrgios said.

Top seed Rafael Nadal laboured past dogged fellow left-hander Federico Delbonis to take another step towards only a second Australian Open crown. The Spanish world No 1 created 20 breakpoint chances but was constantly denied by the Argentinian before he wrapped up a 6-3 7-6 (7/4) 6-1 win on Rod Laver Arena. The victory set up a third-round clash with countryman Pablo Carreno Busta, his doubles partner at January’s ATP Cup.

“It was a tough match. I lost a lot of opportunities on break point but found a way to finally win the second set,” he said. “In the third I was more relaxed, more aggressive and found better play in that set.”

Nadal had dropped only 10 games in three previous emphatic wins over 76th-ranked Delbonis, and defeat was never on the cards at Melbourne Park. But the Argentinian, whose best Grand Slam result was the third round in Melbourne in 2016, made life hard for the 19-time Grand Slam winner, fending off 16 break point chances.

Nadal looked on track for another straightforward victory after racing through the opening set, sealing it with a trademark cross-court forehand. But he found it tougher going in the second, which went with serve up to the tiebreaker. Nadal, though, came through and Delbonis never recovered as the Spaniard asserted his authority to race home, but not before hitting a ballgirl on the head with a ball.

He rushed over to console her and gave her a kiss for good measure. “For her it was not a good moment, I was so scared for her, the ball was quick and straight on her,” Nadal said. “I’m very happy she is good. She is brave. Well done.”

Victory in Melbourne would make Nadal the first man in the Open era — and only the third in history — to win all four Major titles twice, after Roy Emerson and Rod Laver.

Reuters, AFP

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