Nick Kyrgios is not the type to dwell on losses.
Even after taking the opening two sets and seemingly putting himself on the path to glory before falling short, Kyrgios was hardly a broken man leaving John Cain Arena.
“I’m not taking any shame in losing to five sets to the Australian Open finalist and the US Open champion,” he said.
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“As soon as I lost, I wasn’t upset. I was smiling, I was happy for him [Thiem]. He’s put in a lot of work, the body of work, the foundation he’s put in. He’s rewarded for it.”
Kyrgios maintained he has not “missed the sport at all” but on Friday night he was playing with the same swagger and confidence that has so often stood out in a sanitised sports world.
He may not have missed tennis but tennis had missed him and the crowd let him know.
“It was an amazing atmosphere. The energy out there was special,” Kyrgios said.
“For me, these matches felt full because, I mean, like the stadium was awesome, energy was awesome. You look at Djokovic’s match now and there’s barely no crowd. I don’t know how other players feel about it, but that’s just the way it is. We can’t complain. We’re blessed to just be playing at the moment.”
Thiem never wavered though, even two sets down as the parochial crowd cheered the Austrian’s faults.
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“I think Thiem actually, you know, drew some energy from everyone kind of against him almost,” Kyrgios said.
“He’s played on the biggest stages in the world, so I don’t think he was rattled at all.”
There was one critical moment in the match though, when Kyrgios was unable to take advantage of two break points on Thiem’s serve, that proved a turning point.
“If I take one of those breakpoints in the third set early I think the match is over in an hour and 45 minutes,” he said.
“I could definitely feel he was going away towards the end of the second. He was a bit rattled, and I played a heck of a first game in the third set. I just missed a couple of balls by really nothing, you know.
“Maybe if I played more last year, maybe if I trained more, I make those balls, I’m not too sure. But in that moment I didn’t make it, and then he just steadied the ship a little bit. He broke me early in the third.”
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As Kyrgios punished himself for poor shots, he congratulated Thiem for “a hell of a shot” while chasing a crosscourt pass.
“He’s a hell of a player. He’s so disciplined. He’s so composed. His level doesn’t drop,” Kyrgios said post-match.
“It is what it is. One thing I noticed about him maybe two sets to love down, he was always positive, he didn’t show any negative emotion.
“He knew there was a long way to go in that match. Yeah, the sport is not the same without. But tonight I was massive underdog.
“You’re talking about a guy who won the US Open, played all year during COVID, probably in the best shape of his life, and I just took 13 months off.”
There were no signs of rust early for Kyrgios, with the trickster pulling out underarm serves and half-volleys between the legs, owning the court and moment even if it did not always come off.
Later in the match though, Kyrgios sensed he was losing it. He said it was “remarkable” how he held up though.
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“I felt like my serving kind of went away a little bit,” he said.
“I think that’s a body thing. I just don’t feel as if — the load isn’t there yet quite to be serving that many — like over three days, I played 10 sets of tennis, almost seven hours of tennis.”
“So it’s pretty remarkable that my body is actually the way it is at the moment. I’m super proud of it. You know, I’m not probably in the best physical shape I have been in. I’m probably not playing the best tennis I’m playing.
“But I tried to bring what I had and it wasn’t enough. I fell short. I’m all right with that.”
Naturally, the next question is whether Kyrgios takes more time off or looks to build on a promising Australian Open campaign.
“I don’t know, man. I can change like the wind,” he said.
“I’m not too sure, depending on what happens with COVID in Australia, you know. I’m assuming we will probably settle it pretty quickly. But I don’t know how I’ll have to quarantine overseas in tournaments.
“I don’t know. I mean, I’ve played a lot of big matches on a lot of big stages, and a match like that, I honestly felt like I was sitting in this chair last year a week ago. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been away for a year. As I said, I haven’t missed the sport at all. I don’t miss much about it.”
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Kyrgios though was firm in not putting himself through quarantine and strict coronavirus protocols only to have to play in front of no fans, declaring “that’s just not me.”
“Again, I’m not going to force myself to go to these places and quarantine for a week and then play with no crowd,” he added.
“I just don’t think it’s right. I’m not gonna force myself to play.”
It is not a case of needing to prove anything to himself or others – Kyrgios said he has already done that in pushing one of the world’s best all the way.
“I’m still proud of myself,” he said.
“You know, I took 13 months away from the game, and to produce that level and go toe to toe with one of the best players in the world, I’m pretty proud. I left it all out there. I actually physically felt pretty good.
“I’m sore now. I knew that today I had an absolute fighting chance. I walked in that match expecting to win. That’s how I always go into a match. But he steadied the ship well and that’s why he’s great.”
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Back in 2017, writing for PlayersVoice, Kyrgios described the compelling contradiction that defines his approach to tennis.
How he is confronted by a “constant tug-of-war between the competition within me wanting to win and the human in me wanting to live a normal life with my family away from the public glare.”
That hunger to win, spurred on by the urges of the crowd, was there on Friday night but so was the human side of Kyrgios – the instinct to celebrate Thiem’s greatness mid-match and later not get too caught up in what this moment means in his career.
For now, he just feels “blessed” to be playing.