Nick Kyrgios is once again at a career crossroad following a gallant second-round Australian Open loss to title favourite Daniil Medvedev.
The sport’s ultimate showman wowed fans with his incredible array of tricks but was eventually outclassed by the ice-cool Russian, bowing out with a 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 4-6 6-2 defeat on Thursday night.
While second seed Medvedev remains on track to capture back-to-back grand slam titles following his US Open breakthrough last September, Kyrgios faces another rankings freefall.
The 26-year-old, who peaked at No.13 in 2016, had dropped to 115 before this year’s first slam – following more than four months without a match.
He will now slide to at least 124, putting his guaranteed French Open spot in jeopardy unless he can recover ground before the Roland Garros slam begins in May.
Less than a fortnight after he was bedridden with COVID-19, Kyrgios dominated his first-round clash with British qualifier Liam Broady at Melbourne Park and tested world No.2 Medvedev.
“He’s just so confident right now and to be honest I threw everything I could at him,” Kyrgios said.
“I served consistently 220km/h for three-and-a-half hours and played pretty well from the back, created plenty of opportunities on return game.
“I’m super proud of my performance though, from where I was with my struggles the last four or five months.
“To be feeling like this and obviously having COVID a couple of days before (the tournament), I’m just proud of the way I responded and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my team.”
Kyrgios continued his complex relationship with local fans, feeding off their energy at a “rowdier than usual” Rod Laver Arena as he desperately searched for ways to crack Medvedev.
But their noise also left him frustrated at times as he pleaded with them not to call out during his service motion.
Kyrgios called on chair umpire Carlos Bernardes to control the crowd and also argued with him over what he thought was over-officiating of the 25-second time limit between points.
Two double-faults – one during the first set tiebreak and another to offer up two set points in second – proved costly for Kyrgios.
He hit back, sending fans wild as he celebrated a series of winners and secured the third set with a drop shot, but crumbled in the fourth as Medvedev held his nerve.
Medvedev, who pounded 31 aces to the Australian’s 17, stayed calm and focused throughout the match despite what he felt was a lack of respect from boisterous Kyrgios fans.
“I came to win this match and I’m happy that I managed to do it,” Medvedev said.
“(Managing your emotions) is the only choice when you get booed between first and second serve.
“It’s not easy, so I just had to stay calm and win the match.”
Medvedev is a hot favourite to win his third-round encounter with Dutch world No.57 Botic van de Zandschulp, who advanced when Frenchman Richard Gasquet retired hurt from their second-round clash.