By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
Given the stakes, the stage and the headliners involved, it was arguably the match of the tournament. And before a raucous Stadium Court crowd that stayed well past midnight, Nick Kyrgios (right) would not flinch.
The Wimbledon finalist and 2019 Citi Open saved five match points in a second-set tiebreak and ultimately rallied past hometown favorite Frances Tiafoe 6-7(5), 7-6(12), 6-2 in a late-night thriller.
“Honestly, I thought I was going to lose,” Kyrgios told Prakash Amritraj in his on-court post-match interview when asked specifically about the epic second-set tiebreaker. “I was prepared to shake hands.”
Instead, Kyrgios used his whole arsenal to force a decisive set, saving match points with, among other weapons, an ace, a backhand winner down the line and a nifty drop shot.
“Frances put himself in every position to win the match,” Kyrgios said, “And in those moments, I wasn’t really thinking too much. I was just trying to stay in the match and I survived.”
In the third set, the former World No.13 took over. Kyrgios broke Tiafoe in the opening game of the final stanza – the first break of serve for either player – and cruised from there.
“Physically, I felt like I was really fresh in the third set and served really well,” said Kyrgios, who fired 35 aces in the match. “I was lucky at times, but it was a really good match.”
Kyrgios said he’s surprising himself physically, and points to the volume of intense matches he played at Wimbledon for preparing him for demands of the U.S. hardcourt season.
Earlier on Friday, Kyrgios secured a straight-sets win over American Reilly Opelka in a Round-of-16 match that had been suspended Thursday night due to rain.
“Playing Reilly in the heat was not ideal,” Kyrgios said. “Then I got some rest and eventually just pulled through. An amazing match with Frances. I knew it was going to be crazy. I’m glad just the day is over.”
Tiafoe’s deepest run at his hometown tournament saw him reach the quarterfinals for the first time. Combined with last week’s semifinal run in Atlanta and a fourth round appearance last month at Wimbledon, Tiafoe will be a career-high No.23 in the world when the latest ATP rankings are released Monday.
Kyrgios has now reached the semifinals (or better) in five of his last six tournaments. He will next face Mikael Ymer of Sweden in the first semifinal on Saturday night (not before 7 p.m.). Ymer advanced as he outlasted rising American Sebastian Korda 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 in 2 hours and 27 minutes.
Ymer, 23, has won all four of his matches this week in three sets. He has also spent a tournament-high 10 hours and 44 minutes on court.
While the Kyrgios-Ymer match will open the evening session on Stadium, the second men’s semifinal will feature No.1 seed Andrey Rublev and Washington Kastles alum Yoshihito Nishioka.
Rublev also pulled double duty Friday, earning a pair of straight-sets wins. The World No.8 began his day with a 6-4, 7-6(8) win over the serve-and-volleying Maxime Cressy. In the nightcap, Rublev ended the hopes of Americans wild-card J.J. Wolf with a 6-2, 6-3 triumph on Stadium.
“Of course I'm happy to be for second time in semifinal at Washington,” said Rublev, who reached his maiden ATP-500 semifinal at the 2018 Citi Open. “Obviously I'm happy, and I want to do my best [Saturday] to see if I can go farther.”
Nishioka advanced with a grueling 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-5 win over No.16 Daniel Evans that saw both players spend 3 hours and 34 minutes on John Harris Court.
“I love this,” Nishioka said during his on-court post-match interview, after rallying from a break down at 3-4 in the third set. “I’m really proud of myself. I never gave up, I was believing in myself and I found a way.”
Nishioka, who saved a match point against Alex de Minaur in a second-round match on Wednesday is now into his first career ATP-500 semifinal.