TENNIS

Frances Tiafoe swings against Nick Kyrgios at Citi Open

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When the game finally ended at 12:57 a.m., the crowd was on its feet. But Nick Kyrgios no longer had any celebration in him.

He had played two singles matches in the sweltering heat and humidity on Friday, watched a friend in one of them and expelled all the energy he had to pull off a victory in his favorite type of match – a blockbuster. He walked with his head down and his shoulders slumped with exhaustion at the end. Her opponent, Frances Tiafoe, moved as if her leg muscles were so tight they no longer bent.

It was the tattered sequel of two showmen at their best.

Kyrgios and Tiafoe gave the Citi Open its Match of the Tournament on Friday night, a battle royale full of laughter, fury and electrifying tennis. Kyrgios triumphed 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (14-12), 6-2 to advance to the second semi-final of his career in Washington against Mikael Ymer on Saturday.

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Kyrgios earned it, paradoxically, by doing just enough. The 27-year-old Australian is understandably more talented than Tiafoe, but the 24-year-old Hyattsville native leveled the playing field on Friday in the pair’s first encounter with a raucous crowd and sheer willpower in both first sets.

It wasn’t Kyrgios’ smart shot that sealed the game. After a breathless second-set tiebreaker left Tiafoe furious with himself for letting five match points slip away, Kyrgios used the kind of balance usually used against him.

He hunkered down, relied on his greatest weapon – his serve – and put his racquet in the right place at the right time.

“That’s all I did, I put myself in a position to stay in the game and felt my experience – he was mobilizing the crowd and getting involved early on, he might have wasted a bit of time. energy at the start, and it’s tough conditions here,” Kyrgios said. “It really weighs on you, you lose a lot of fluids here and my serve at the end has shifted into another gear. Felt like I had fresh legs at the end, serving 130 [mph] under these conditions is quite useful.

Useful? Only if you consider serving 35 aces an additive.

Along with his serve, Kyrgios attributed an aloof mindset to his ability to win the match. Tiafoe was playing in the first Citi Open quarter-final of her career with all the support and pressure that comes with playing in front of a home crowd. Kyrgios said afterwards that he doesn’t care about losing to a player he respects – “At the end of the day, if I lose, I lose, I’m going to shake hands with that person and say, ‘Too good “.”

Kyrgios nearly did just that. The match lasted 2 hours 29 minutes and was so close, especially in the first two sets, that Kyrgios won just 11 points ahead of Tiafoe, 116-105. He won 16 service games to Tiafoe’s 14. The two won 81% of the points on their first serve. No one led by more than one point in the second set tiebreaker until the end.

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“Honestly, I thought I was going to lose,” Kyrgios said.

It was the first meeting between the two friends, on a day that Kyrgios said he had been waiting for about five years. The pair are former doubles partners and kindred spirits on the ATP Tour, two believers in the value of a show.

They peppered the opening set with crowd-pleasing moments. In game six, Kyrgios had Tiafoe on a rope and appeared to be tugging him back and forth across the baseline partly as a strategy and partly to show the crowd how fast Tiafoe can go. When Kyrgios finally won the point, he gave his opponent a cheeky smile and a shrug, to which Tiafoe responded with a look of fake disdain, prompting laughter throughout the stadium.

But there was no doubt that both players took the game seriously.

Kyrgios raced to a 4-1 advantage in a first-set tiebreaker, but the momentum unleashed a 136mph laser from a Tiafoe ace that cut Kyrgios’ advantage to 5- 4.

Tiafoe then turned defense into attack with a pinpoint approach shot to win the next point, his full arsenal on display in his second game of the day. Kyrgios double faulted to give Tiafoe the lead and he served an ace to close the first set – the first Kyrgios had fallen in the fourth games.

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Tiafoe can’t match Kyrgios’ shooting ability, but he had the tightest game for the first half of Friday’s game, meeting Kyrgios’ power and moving ahead of him in terms of consistency. The defense of Krygios is the attack; Tiafoe has the fitness, patience and deft hands to chase ball after ball in a long rally and most often talks about the shot needed to finish it.

But he hesitated when it mattered most. The mental anguish of the second-set tiebreaker seemed to sap his energy and his inability to convert any of his five match points seemed to distract him.

Tiafoe, like Kyrgios, was playing his second match of the day due to weather delays, and collapsed in the third set.

Kyrgios, on the other hand, held out just long enough.

“It wasn’t easy, to be honest. I played early this morning and the heat wasn’t ideal, but I came out fast and strong…” Kyrgios said. “I knew it was going to be crazy so I’m just happy that today Today is over and I can rest a bit. To finish.”

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