Read & Watch: Federer Sets Kyrgios Clash
Two months ago, Roger Federer had one foot out the door in the second round of the Gerry Weber Open. Staring down the barrel of two match points against Benoit Paire, he would need a moment of magic to overcome the charismatic Frenchman in a deciding tie-break.
There was no such drama on Thursday at the US Open, as the pair met once again with plenty at stake. Federer scored a 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 win to book his spot in the third round and set a blockbuster battle against Nick Kyrgios on Saturday.
"I think it was a bit sort of up and down," said Federer. "I think it's always tricky against Benoit, because there's a lot of tactics going on. Never quite the same point. Sometimes he plays very deep in the court, then he plays up in the court. That's maybe why you draw errors out of each other rather than winners at the end. The match maybe doesn't look at good. Plus he covers the court very well. Sometimes you have a tendency to overplay, as well. But overall I'm happy. I think it was not a bad performance by any means by me. I can be pleased, so it's all good."
It was far from routine, but the second seed used his experience and guile to secure the win, benefitting from 47 unforced errors by Paire, while striking 27 winners of his own. He converted five of nine break chances.
A decade removed from his last title in New York, the five-time champion (2004-08) avoided his earliest exit in 18 visits to Flushing Meadows. He prevailed after one hour and 56 minutes, notching his 35th match win of 2018.
Federer and Kyrgios will meet for the fourth time in their budding FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry, with the Swiss claiming the two most recent encounters - on the hard courts of Miami last year and on the grass of Stuttgart this year. All three of their meetings have resulted in third-set tie-breaks. In fact, eight of the nine sets played were decided by tie-breaks.
Kyrgios overcame a slow start to rally past Pierre-Hugues Herbert 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-3, 6-0, recovering from a set and a break deficit with authority. The enigmatic Aussie appeared deflated in the early stages. He trailed 4-6, 0-3, when chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani stepped down to speak to the 23-year-old. The USTA later issued a statement, saying that Lahyani was unable to communicate effectively with the noise level on Court 17, which prompted him to check on his condition and offer to call for medical help. He deemed Kyrgios' behaviour as not looking professional. The Canberra native would immediately find his rhythm, reeling off 17 of 21 games to cross the finish line.
"Very tough conditions, extremely hot," said Kyrgios. "I wasn't feeling too good for the first set and a half. But I felt I played probably some of the best tennis I played in the third and fourth sets. My intent was a lot better. I was just more involved in the match."
"I know what I was doing out there wasn't good. I wasn't really listening to him, but I knew it wasn't a good look. It didn't help me at all," Kyrgios said of Lahyani's talk. "It happened to me in Cincinnati two weeks ago against Del Potro, the exact same thing happened. I wasn't putting forth my best performance.I did the same today. The umpire was like, 'Nick, you can't be doing this. It's a bad look'. Same thing happened there."
Herbert said that he was unsure what, if any, impact the conversation had on the match. "I don't know what to think. I don't know if something happened, if Mohamed would have said something or not, it wouldn't have changed anything. I cannot tell you," Herbert said. "[But] that's not his job. The fact is, I think Mohamed is an amazing umpire. But today I don't think he had to go down."
Victory over Herbert marks Kyrgios' seventh comeback from a set down this year. The Aussie has equalled his best result in New York, having also advanced as far in both 2014 and 2016.
"I definitely know that I won't be the favourite, the crowd favourite here," Kyrgios added about facing Federer. "I go into that match with zero expectations. I do believe I can beat him. I have done it before. It's going to be a lot of fun. I'm going to be looking forward to it. I can't do anything differently. I've got to recover."
Also in that section of the draw, John Millman set a third-round date with Mikhail Kukushkin. The Aussie is rekindling the magic from his run to the third round a year ago, upsetting 14th seed Fabio Fognini 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. It was just the fifth Top 20 win for Millman, who also stunned countryman Kyrgios at Flushing Meadows last year.
The 29-year-old is playing some of the best tennis of his career, in his return from an injury-plagued stretch, which saw him most recently undergo groin surgery in early 2017. He cracked the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings a month ago and will look to surpass that career-high No. 49 with victory over Kukushkin.
The Kazakh ousted Hyeon Chung 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-3 to open Thursday's play, advancing to the third round for the third time in four years. He needed two hours and 46 minutes to move on, converting nine of 15 break chances. Competing in his first hard-court tournament since March, Kukushkin had not won a match on the surface since lifting the ATP Challenger Tour trophy in Irving, Texas, that month.