Moments after going down in an engrossing five-set US Open quarter final, the ugly side of Nick Kyrgios' game reared its head once more.
Kyrgios went down 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4 to Russia's Karen Khachanov in a see-sawing contest at Arthur Ashe Stadium, putting an end to the Australian's impressive run at Flushing Meadows.
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The 27-year-old left the tennis world impressed earlier in the week when he thundered past World No.1 Daniil Medvedev in the fourth round, but Khachanov proved his equal in the big moments in the quarter final.
Kyrgios and Khachanov hit more than 60 aces between them for the match, but it was the Russian World No.31 who was able to secure crucial break points when it counted in the first, third and fifth sets.
Khachanov served for the match and Kyrgios' heart would have collapsed when a backhand from his opponent clipped the net and dropped in at 30-30, with the Russian quickly capitalising on his lone match point.
A devastated Kyrgios couldn't contain his emotions after the match was over, smashing two of his racquets on the court after shaking hands with Khachanov before walking off the court without changing his shoes or acknowledging the crowd.
— Brian Wacker (@brianwacker1) September 7, 2022
Fans on social media simply couldn't believe the outburst, which could be heard in the background as broadcast cameras focused on the celebrating Khachanov.
It was an ugly moment which took the shine off what was otherwise an impressive performance from Kyrgios, despite not advancing to the US Open semi-final.
There was little sympathy for Kyrgios online, with many arguing there was no need for the outburst.
Some labelled the ugly scenes 'disgusting' and 'embarrassing'.
Kyrgios has to look in the mirror. His on-court behavior is becoming embarrassing. @bgtennisnation
— Bonta Hill (@BontaHill) September 7, 2022
— Jerry Coleman (@sportswcoleman) September 7, 2022
Nick Kyrgios embarrassing himself and the sport for the 7439th time. https://t.co/ZvRwpUnfFU
— Musab (@Musab_Abid) September 7, 2022
Am i terrible person if i say that I'm really glad Kyrgios did not win? That behaviour is disgraceful & has no place in ANY sport. And just the fact that spectators and some pundits romanticise and encourage it, saying "it's good for the game" makes it worse. #UsOpen #Tennis
— Jude Sannith (@JudeSannith24) September 7, 2022
Others defended the Aussie star and said the outburst showed how badly he wanted to win after his desire was questioned in the past.
Really think tennis needs Kyrgios - though I thought the racquet smashing was a bit much when it's not his time for the limelight.
Then you see this and all it shows is how badly he now wants a Grand Slam. He just shows it in a very different way. https://t.co/f6jhxrV9oN
— Guy Heveldt (@GuyHeveldt) September 7, 2022
I’m sure some will say ‘Same old Kyrgios’ for the racquet abuse. But doing after losing a brutal five-setter, well that just shows that he cares about winning - which is what the critics have always wanted #USOpen
— Drew Jones (@DrewJonesFOX) September 7, 2022
Nick Kyrgios goes down in five-set US Open quarter final epic
The in-form Wimbledon finalist looked subdued from the outset, possibly the hangover effect from his electrifying victory over Medvedev two nights earlier.
Possibly because he was carrying a niggling injury. Or maybe he was fatigued from a gruelling and successful American hard-court swing.
Whatever the reason, Kyrgios lacked his usual energy and paid the price for a slow start, playing catch-up for most of the night.
The excitement machine appeared to be going through the motions throughout the first set as the two power servers seemed headed towards an inevitable tiebreaker.
But Kyrgios dropped serve at 5-6 with a double-fault then a nonchalant volley that enabled Khachanov to play a routine lob to take the set.
Kyrgios immediately took a medical time-out, telling the trainer he felt a sharp pain in his left upper calf muscle.
He resumed playing but seemed to be losing his stomach for a fight, complaining to his box: "I don't want to play through this shit. I really don't want to f...ing do it."
But out of nowhere he broke Khachanov in the third game of the second set to revive his challenge.
While barely shifting out of second gear, Kyrgios did enough to continue holding his serve to nab the second set and square the match up.
Showing increasing signs of life, the Wimbledon runner-up finally fist-pumped to his box after he levelled the pivotal third set at 4-4 with a pair of big aces.
He looked on top, dominating Khachanov from the baseline and urging the crowd to will him to a decisive break.
He had two chances the next game but failed to convert either - and promptly erupted, receiving a code violation for breaking a racquet in disgust.
Opportunity lost, the hot-head hit the self-destruct button and found himself down double set point at 15-40 the very next game.
Kyrgios looked almost resigned to handing over the set, only for Khachanov to frame a sitter at the next on the first set point before the Australian fired down three unreturnable serves to momentarily escape peril.
He couldn't hold from 15-40 down a second time, though, as Kyrgios fumed at his box - yet again - for not offering enough vocal support.
"You don't even know what a break point is. An embarrassment," Kyrgios screamed over and over to his entourage, before receiving another warning, this time for unsportsmanlike conduct after pelting a water bottle into the court.
After settling down, Kyrgios raised hopes of a fightback when he snatched the fourth set in a tiebreaker.
But despite carrying an impressive 11-3 career record in matches that have gone the distance, Kyrgios dropped serve in the first game of the deciding set and never recovered, eventually bowing out after three hours and 39 minutes.
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