Ice-cool Dominic Thiem rallied from two sets down to tame flamboyant Nick Kyrgios at the Australian Open Friday in front of a raucous crowd hours before Melbourne goes into coronavirus lockdown while an injured Novak Djokovic survived a massive scare against Taylor Fritz in the third round.

The defending champion said he had a tear but fought hard to beat America’s Taylor Fritz 7-6(1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 past midnight. However, he had to finish his match in front of an empty stadium as play was suspended at 11:30 pm (1230 GMT) to allow fans to leave Rod Laver Arena. as the lockdown began.

Djokovic set-up a fourth-round clash with big-serving Raonic after the 14th seed beat Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics in four sets.

Kyrgios produced a virtuoso performance in the first two sets, using every trick in the book, including underarm serves and tweeners, as he fed off the energy at a boisterous John Cain Arena, his favourite court. But he couldn’t sustain the intensity as US Open champion Thiem, last year’s runner-up, found his groove with some dominant serving to fight back and outlast the 25-year-old 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

He will now play 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov for a place in the quarter-finals, with the Bulgarian through after Pablo Carreno Busta retired injured in the second set.

Austrian Thiem came into the clash after dropping just six games in his previous match, in contrast to Kyrgios who played a draining and emotional five-setter. But Kyrgios broke Thiem in the first game and immediately began revving up the mostly mask-less crowd, gesturing for them to get up and cheer.

Fans were out in force for the match, the last time the tournament will see spectators for at least five days after a lockdown was announced in Melbourne to counter a growing coronavirus cluster.

Ever the showman, Kyrgios sent down a cheeky underarm serve and attempted a tweener in his first service game, unsuccessful gambles that nevertheless didn’t prevent him consolidating his lead. Thiem appeared nervous, missing easy shots, while struggling with Kyrgios’ thunderbolt serves that occasionally clocked in at over 221kmh, with the Australian racking up seven aces in the opening set.

They went shot-for-shot in the second but Kyrgios was still firing big serves and with Thiem standing far back, outrageously aced him with an underarm, sending the crowd wild.

Thiem appeared intimidated by the noise and when he sent a forehand wide to be broken in the ninth game, Kyrgios turned to the crowd with a huge grin on his face.

To top it off, he pulled off another underarm ace to win the set.

But Theim lifted in the third set and finally broke Kyrgios’ resistance to go 2-0 up and started to dictate the rallies, winning the set as the Australian began shaking his head and muttering to himself.

With frustration creeping in, Kyrgios dug deep to hold serve in a 13-minute marathon opening game in the fourth set and it went with serve until Thiem made the breakthrough for 5-4 with a glorious cross-court winner.

Kyrgios regained his swagger in the fifth but ultimately the cool head of Thiem prevailed, breaking for a 4-3 lead and completing a gripping contest with a sizzling backhand winner.

In the late night match, Fritz impressively dug out of a 5-2 hole to force a tiebreaker, but Djokovic lifted the intensity under pressure to peel off six straight points en route to taking the first set.

Djokovic’s mood quickly soured and he remonstrated with boisterous fans in the fourth game of the second set after pulling out of his service motion due to crowd noise.

He received loud jeers as the crowd shifted their support to Fritz, but Djokovic responded by holding serve and celebrating wildly much to the derision of spectators, who won’t be in attendance until Thursday due to Melbourne’s lockdown.

A galvanised Djokovic was rejuvenated and appeared set to sail through to a comfortable victory before injury struck.

Fritz, 23, took advantage and forced a fourth set, where he broke in the third game.

Djokovic was hanging on but received respite when play was suspended for 10 minutes as spectators, many of whom jeered when exiting, were forced to leave at 11:30 pm – half-an-hour before Melbourne’s lockdown started.

The stoppage didn’t stop Fritz’s momentum as he drew level, but Djokovic somehow found a way back and celebrated his gutsy victory with loud roars that echoed around the empty stadium.

The Serb is targeting a record-extending ninth title and his 18th Grand Slam trophy overall as he snaps at the heels of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who top the all-time list with 20 each.

Djokovic set-up a fourth-round clash with big-serving Raonic after the 14th seed beat Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics in four sets.

Djokovic will be looking to continue his stranglehold over the Canadian, having won all 11 prior matches and dropping just three sets overall. He knocked out Raonic in straight sets in the quarter-finals of last year’s Australian Open. However, whether he plays the match remains to be seen.

Earlier, Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev pulled off a big upset when the world No 114 blitzed eighth seed Diego Schwartzmann into submission 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 with a barrage of winners.

Karatsev is making his Grand Slam debut at Melbourne Park and is incredibly yet to drop a set as he set up a fourth-round meeting with Felix Auger-Aliassime, who beat 11th seed Denis Shapovalov 7-5, 7-5, 6-3 in an all-Canadian battle

The 27-year-old Russian secret weapon powered 50 winners, including nine aces, past the shell-shocked Argentine who could muster only five of his own in return in a 1hr 52min drubbing.

On nine previous attempts to reach a Grand Slam event, the injury-dogged Russian fell in qualifying but he finally broke through to reach the main draw, and is making the most of his opportunity. He was part of the victorious Russian ATP Cup team last week along with Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev who will both be in third-round action on Saturday.

Sixth seed Alexander Zverev crushed Adrian Mannarino with little fuss. The German, a semi-finalist last year who is gunning for a maiden Grand Slam title, turned in an accomplished performance en route to a routine 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 win in just 1hr 43mins on Rod Laver Arena.

Zverev had reason to be confident, toppling the French 32nd seed three times in 2020 alone, including en route to the US Open final. He will next meet Serbian 23rd seed Dusan Lajovic



Third round

Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) bt Taylor Fritz (USA x27) 7-6 (7/1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2

Milos Raonic (CAN x14) bt Marton Fucsovics (HUN) 7-6 (7/2), 5-7, 6-2, 6-2

Dusan Lajovic (SRB x23) bt Pedro Martinez (ESP) 6-7 (6/8), 7-5, 6-1, 6-4

Alexander Zverev (GER x6) bt Adrian Mannarino (FRA x32) 6-3, 6-3, 6-1

Dominic Thiem (AUT x3) bt Nick Kyrgios (AUS) 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x18) bt Pablo Carreno-Busta (ESP x15) 6-0, 1-0 abandon

Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN x20) bt Denis Shapovalov (CAN x11) 7-5, 7-5, 6-3

Aslan Karatsev (RUS) bt Diego Schwartzman (ARG x8) 6-3, 6-3, 6-3

With AFP Inputs