‘Devastated’ Nick Kyrgios exits US Open after thriller against Karen Khachanov

It is the overcooked forehand in a thriller that might have cost Nick Kyrgios a grand slam title. As gallant as the Australian was when edged 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-4 by Karen Khachanov at the US Open, one wonders whether such a golden chance will ever come again. The frustration he showed on exiting the court suggested he realised as much. Smashed rackets. And more. It is a shame, because although beaten, he put up a strong fight.

Kyrgios was shattered by the loss, saying he felt “mentally distraught”. “There really wasn’t anything in it,” he said. “I’m just devastated, obviously. I [just] feel like it was either winning it all or nothing at all, to be honest. I feel like I’ve just failed at this event right now. That’s what it feels like.”

But back to the forehand. The favourite for the US Open title after the exit of Rafael Nadal, the Australian looked finally to have found his rhythm in what proved a moody yet electric quarter-final on Tuesday night at Flushing Meadows. Deep in the third set of a tight encounter at four games-all, two break points arose against the rangy Russian who played superbly to produce his career-best performance in a grand slam.

On the second of those points, Kyrgios worked into position to punish a forehand. Instead of searing a line, as so many of his shots had throughout the first week in New York, the 23rd seed blasted it well beyond the baseline. Bereft, it drained his belief for a period.

The Wimbledon finalist was extremely fortunate to receive a reprieve from Khachanov, who held his nerve and concentration for long enough to break his rival, in the next game. But the Russian, who had previously reached quarter-finals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, was relentless. He used his reach well to blunt Kyrgios’s spectacular serve.

And the same reach came to the fore when Khachanov, whose forehand technique resembles “The Crane” kick deployed by Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid, whipped one up the line that proved too heavy for Kyrgios to handle on set point. Had Kyrgios made the forehand at 4-4, percentages suggest he would have won the match to set up a semi-final against Casper Ruud. But tennis is a sport of fine margins.

The tougher competitor, both physically and mentally, came up trumps. While Kyrgios played a superb tiebreaker in the fourth set to extend the match, it was Khachanov who finished too strongly in the decider to reach his first grand slam semi-final.

Kygrios had started the match a heavy favourite following his dismantling of Khachanov’s compatriot Daniil Medvedev, the defending champion. But the record books suggested it would be far closer. When they played at Melbourne Park in 2020, the final four sets of another thriller won by Kyrgios ended in tiebreakers. And so it proved.

The signs for Kyrgios were ominous early. Khachanov was serving bullets. And with it clear the Russian was up for the challenge, the Australian began reaching for his left knee.

The first set was not quite a case of blink and you missed it. But it was tennis at its most rapid, with Khachanov edging ahead 7-5 in just 35 minutes with a superb backhand lob. This was the type of tennis officials once feared would become commonplace until measures were put in place to slow the pace a little. Big men serving even bigger, which does little to entertain fans.

Dare we suggest it, but the early tedium might explain the bizarre behaviour that saw two patrons booted out of Arthur Ashe Stadium after one began shaving the head of the other.

When that lob landed in, the quarter-final had swung in Khachanov’s favour. The Australian called for medical treatment on the niggle that was bothering him and started the second set in sharper fashion, snaring a break to lead 2-1. That proved enough, so soundly did the Australian serve for the rest of the set to level the match.

Khachanov saved two break points in the opening game of the third set. Then the moment of truth arrived. Kyrgios looked to have the upper hand, but the match flipped on that missed forehand. Instead of leading into the fourth set, he had a mountain to climb that proved too difficult to surmount.

To his great credit, the 27-year-old showed fight. He could have turned it up his tail. Instead he forced a fifth set. But when he dropped in the opening game, the writing was on the wall. The Australian’s best season at grand slam level, one where he came close to becoming a champion, is over.

“That’s all people remember at a grand slam, whether you win or you lose,” he said. “I think pretty much every other tournament during the year is a waste of time really. You should just run up and show up at a grand slam. That’s what you’re remembered by.”