Melbourne: Nick Kyrgios promised COVID-weary fans a show after recovering from his own infection and duly delivered on Tuesday with a tweener-laden 6-4 6-4 6-3 win over Briton Liam Broady on Tuesday to reach the Australian Open second round.
Kyrgios matches are box office gold but have dwindled through the pandemic, and there was danger home fans would miss the Australian at Melbourne Park this year after he tested positive in the leadup.
But after exiting isolation on Sunday, the tennis maverick returned to the combustible John Cain Arena and gave raucous fans a night to remember as he set up a blockbuster clash with second seed Daniil Medvedev.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray dipped into the depth of his defensive skills to tame big-hitting Nikoloz Basilashvili during a thrilling 6-1 3-6 6-4 6-7(5) 6-4 win to reach the second round of the Australian Open for the first time in five years.
The former world number one, a five-time finalist at Melbourne Park, has seen his ranking plummet since hip surgery in 2019 and long injury layoffs that followed and needed a wildcard into the main draw of this year's tournament.
The 113th-ranked Murray, who won the last of his three major titles at Wimbledon in 2016, showed he still had the game to trouble top players on the tour and forced the 21st seed from Georgia into making a litany of errors.
It was Murray's first match at Melbourne Park since a five-set defeat by Roberto Bautista Agut in 2019. He skipped the 2018 and 2020 tournaments with injury and also missed the last edition after testing positive for COVID-19 in the leadup.
Kyrgios performs Ronaldo celebration
Sealing the win with a furious backhand return down the line, Kyrgios dropped an "F-bomb" in his televised on-court interview and performed Cristiano Ronaldo's trademark post-goal celebration.
On his way out of the arena, he took a swig of beer from a cup offered by a fan. COVID-19 be damned.
"I served ... well today," said Kyrgios with an obscenity as fans roared in agreement.
"I don’t know what I have done to this crowd as you guys are a zoo now. I am super happy to be here again."
It took only minutes for Kyrgios to ignite the terraces by breaking Broady in the opening game. He closed out the next game with an under-arm "tweener".
Having lit a fire in the crowd, Kyrgios proved unable to control it, as fans hooted between serves and yelled at Broady to go home.
"I kind of know I've created this ... show, anyway," he said to chair umpire Nico Helwerth, urging the German to do more to quell the commotion.
Relegated to the straight man in Kyrgios's routine, there was little for 128th-ranked qualifier Broady to do but grin and bear it as fans jeered and 41 winners fired past him.
"Everyone is telling me, like, 'Oh you'll really enjoy it. It's going to be amazing'. But I thought it was absolutely awful," said Broady.
"It's the first time I've ever walked onto a tennis court and been booed, which for me was a crazy experience."
Kyrgios has a 2-0 career record over U.S. Open champion Medvedev, both wins in 2019, but never faced him at a Grand Slam.
Playing a long match against the super-fit Russian may be tough for Kyrgios after his recent illness -- and especially if the match is held away from John Cain Arena.
"We're going to be playing on Rod Laver Arena ... Let's be honest, I think we are," he said.
Raducanu survives Stephens test
Britain's teenage sensation Emma Raducanu cleared a dangerous first-round hurdle at the Australian Open, seeing off experienced American Sloane Stephens 6-0 2-6 6-1 in a topsy-turvy contest on Tuesday.
Raducanu, who rocketed to fame in September with a fairytale run to the U.S. Open title as a qualifier without dropping a set in what was only her fourth senior tournament, raced through the opening set in 17 minutes, leaking only four points.
But former world number three and 2017 U.S. Open champion Stephens finally found her rhythm and range to take charge of the second set from 2-2, reeling off four games as errors began creeping in to 17th seed Raducanu's game.
It looked ominous at that point for the 19-year-old Raducanu whose build-up to her Australian Open debut had hardly been ideal, having had COVID-19 and suffering a heavy defeat in her opening match in Sydney.
But she showed the same coolness under pressure that swept her to the title in New York, settling down and finding another gear to dominate the decider with some precision baseline hitting as Stephens unravelled again.
Stephens avoided another rout as she held serve at 0-5 but there were no more twists on a sparsely-populated Margaret Court as Raducanu closed out the win on serve despite a sixth double-fault on her first match point.
It was an encouraging start for Raducanu despite the second-set wobble and she will be heavily fancied to get past 99th ranked Danka Kovinic of Montenegro in the second round.
"It was a tough match-up for a first round, her athleticism is right up there, so I'm just happy to get through," Raducanu, who was under the eye of new coach Torben Beltz, said on court.
"In the first set I played some great tennis with very few errors. Of course there was going to be some adversity and I was happy to regroup in the third set.
"I don't think the score reflected the match really as I was really feeling it."
When Raducanu belted away a forehand winner on the opening point of the match and pocketed the first set without breaking sweat it seemed she had just carried on from where she left off when beating Leylah Fernandez at Flushing Meadows.
It had been a whirlwind existence since that momentous day for the youngster and the spotlight has been firmly on her as the Australian Open loomed.
A 6-0 6-1 defeat by Elena Rybakina in Sydney, her only competitive match ahead of the Open, was a reality check and when her level dropped alarmingly in the second set, albeit with Stephens upping her own game, the alarm bells were ringing.
With little experience of deciding sets in Grand Slams, the odds had switched towards Stephens whose world ranking of 67 does not do justice to her pedigree.
But it was Raducanu who showed the better game-management, cutting out the errors to seize the initiative early before romping home to take her winning streak in Grand Slams, including the U.S. Open qualifying, to 11.