Madrid Masters 2015 Pt2: Kyrgios takes out former champ Federer in drama-packed climax

Roger Federer is beaten in three sets by Nick Kyrgios in the second round of the Madrid Masters

Roger Federer has always found the conditions of the Madrid Masters to his liking.

Played at altitude, it is a little faster, a little livelier than the other big clay events. So while Federer has never won the Rome Masters, he has reached the Madrid final since it switched to clay three times, winning twice.

The Swiss also arrived in Madrid with his first clay title in three years, from the debut playing of the Istanbul Open—a confidence boost after his intense preparation for the clay had failed to pay off in Monte Carlo, where he made an earlier-than-expected exit in the third round.

But it had been a fast turn-around for the 33-year-old world No2 after playing four matches in five days, two of them intense and lengthy three-setters. He only arrived in Madrid Tuesday after a detour home to celebrate the first birthday of his one-year-old twin boys—the reason he missed this tournament last year.

To make matters worse, he faced one of the trickiest segments of the draw. Round 3 brought John Isner and the quarters either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Tomas Berdych, both who have scored wins over the Swiss, and all that before a scheduled semi-final against Federer’s nemesis, Rafael Nadal.

He talked in Istanbul of the scale of the challenge ahead: “This was a tough week and four tough matches. It was a fitness test and a mental test [but] I picked up confidence and I picked up another title. Now of course, it’s tough to back it up right away. The conditions are totally different here in Madrid.

“Because it’s faster clay, I think more players play a bigger part. Bigger hitters are more dangerous, and my section of the draw is full of those kind of guys: Big servers, dangerous players, and that’s why it’s maybe not the best draw in Madrid, I’m aware of that. But my focus is on the first round.”

And just 24 hours after his first practice on the unique Madrid courts, Federer would find himself across the net from the first of those big hitters, one of the brightest, most exciting youngsters on the tour, Nick Kyrgios.

They had not played before, but Federer was only too aware of the talent of the Australian who turned 20 a week ago. He had training with the fast-rising star in Switzerland last year, and afterwards said “I really like his game”—a sentiment repeated this week.

Kyrgios has repaid the compliments to Federer many times over, calling the Swiss variously his “favourite superhero” and “the greatest of all time.”

It is indeed hard not to like the Kyrgios game, so fast, explosive and varied is the Australian’s talent. And he has made such an impression in the last year or so that many see him as a future top-five player, capable even of the highest prizes.

The rangy, extrovert, 6ft4in Aussie reached the quarters of Wimbledon, beating Nadal, just 18 months after winning the Australian Junior title, and went on to reach the quarters in Melbourne this year. Last weekend, he reached his first tour final in Estoril, becoming the youngest player to contest a title match this season, and attain a ranking high of 35.

And his charismatic tennis had already beaten the considerable clay expertise of Daniel Gimeno-Traver in Madrid—in an hour.

Federer, then, would have to hit the ground running, despite his lack of preparation in Madrid. As he said: “This is a tournament where I have to rely totally on my confidence because I’ve had virtually no preparation.”

Federer’s lack of preparation was more than evident in the early stages, and a flurry of errors gave Kyrgios the chance of a quick break, 2-0. By mid set, though, Federer began to find his range and the games flew by in short, fast order, Federer averaging just 15 seconds between points, Kyrgios only 18.

But Federer saved the break-back until the last moment, riding a polished love hold of service on towards 0-40 on the Australian’s serve with a remarkable drop-shot-and-volley play. He levelled, 5-5, and they advanced to a tie-break.

The youngster was already edgy, and a couple of bad line-calls went to his head, he was called for abusive language and, cool as a cucumber, Federer served out the set, 7-6(2).

Federer now looked in complete control, taking a quick break in the second set for a 2-0 lead. But Kyrgios refocused, and his serve and forehand pace began to take their toll on Federer. Offered a break point in the fourth game, the Aussie took it with relish, and now it was Federer on the back foot, serving second and resisting another break chance to level 4-4. Again it would go to a tie-break, and this time, the confident and aggressive Kyrgios took immediate control, 5-0, and it was Federer’s turn to become edgy. The Australian rode out a comeback to take the set, 7-6(5).

The match crescendoed through a dramatic final set, a marathon of high-quality, first-strike tennis. Appropriately, perhaps, it headed to a decisive tie-break without a break point in sight. It had been clutch play from both, and the final game would be the same, as first Kyrgios took a lead, 3-1, then Federer levelled, then Kyrgios reached match point, followed by Federer.

It seesawed between two match points for Federer and five for Kyrgios, but it was finally the Swiss who hit a forehand wide when facing a sixth match-point to give a famous win to the 20-year-old, 7-6(12) after two hours and 37 minutes.

The level of the tennis remained outstanding throughout this tension-packed match: Kyrgios made 45 winners, 22 of them aces, to 41 errors, while Federer made 50 winners, 16 of them aces, to only 36 errors. Federer also won four more points overall, but the honours went to Kyrgios, earned by some bold, focused and dazzling shot-making.

No wonder the young player rated it as “definitely the greatest win of my career.”

He explained why: “I know that he’s the greatest, so I knew I had to play one of the greatest matches I’ve ever played, so I wasn’t intimidated at all. I have a lot of respect for him and it was just another tennis match and another chance to go out and enjoy yourself, and I happened to get the win as well.”

It all sounded remarkably easy, but it wasn’t. Kyrgios admitted that “It doesn’t feel real at the moment,” but he will surely be carving out still greater things for himself very soon. However, his immediate task will be the even taller, even bigger serving Isner, who beat Tomaz Bellucci 7-6(5), 6-7(11), 6-1.

MORE: Part One: Champion Nadal plays ‘the simple game’ to beat Johnson

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