So used to being the beneficiary of vociferous support at Wimbledon’s All England Club, Andy Murray will encounter a very different atmosphere on Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday evening. On Australia Day at the Australian Open, a packed house will be fully behind Murray’s opponent, the first home favorite to reach the quarterfinals in Melbourne for a decade. There is increasingly little doubt that Nick Kyrgios is destined for the very top, but the 19-year-old, nicknamed the Wild Thing, gives little indication of being content just to have reached the last eight.
Kyrgios, who announced his potential by beating Rafael Nadal en route to the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year, is now looking to upset another member of the so-called Big Four, who have dominated men’s tennis for so long. Just like the man who went onto reach the final at Melbourne Park in 2005 and last gave Australians hope of a Grand Slam winner, Lleyton Hewitt, Kyrgios is a boisterous presence at the back of the court. In the fourth round, he channeled the energy from the home support to come back from two sets down to beat the conqueror of Roger Federer, Andreas Seppi. And he believes he is now better placed to go one better than at Wimbledon.
“I think I'll be pulling up better than I did at Wimbledon,” he said. “I know what to expect now, now what I am going to be feeling, especially after a five-set match like that. I need to do everything I can: nutrition, get a good night's rest tonight, do some mobility, get a hit out tomorrow. I’ve just got so much more confidence in my body now. You know, I was feeling fine. My legs were feeling really good towards the end of the fifth set. It's massive confidence being 19 knowing that you can last matches like that.”
Murray was also made to work for his spot in the quarterfinals. After cruising through his opening three rounds in straight sets, the three-time Australian Open runner-up looked set for equally smooth progress against Grigor Dimitrov, before being made to fight hard to close out a four-set win. Still, it was a performance in sharp contrast to his limp exit to Dimitrov at last year’s Wimbledon and he continues to display his best form since undergoing back surgery at the end of 2013. He is confident, too, that he will be able to handle a crowd that will very much be in his opponent’s corner.
“Obviously the crowd will be right behind him,” he said. “Understandably so. They're going to watch him play a lot of matches like this over the next 10, 15 years probably. And, yeah, that's just something that I'll have to deal with in my way. I've played a lot of matches. I've played in French Open against French players where the crowd can be very difficult. I've experienced it before, so hopefully I'll deal with it well.”
Tomas Berdych has already overcome that challenge. The Czech seventh seed ousted another Australian rising star, Bernard Tomic, in round four, but, if he is to earn a meeting with either Murray or Kyrgios in the last four, must now overcome what for him has proved an insurmountable task for the past eight years. That’s how long it’s been since Berdych tasted victory over his quarterfinal opponent, Rafael Nadal. During that time, Nadal has recorded an extraordinary 17 straight wins, despite Berdych spending much of that time in the world’s top 10.
“Every slam is different,” Berdych insisted. “Every opponent, even if is the same one, then the match is different. So, no. It's going to start from 0-0. That's how it is. No comparing with the past. Just trying to be in this time and looking forward to it.”
Belief that this time will be different will come from Berdych’s impressive progress, having not dropped a set, en route to the last eight. In Dani Vallverdu, a former member of Murray’s team, he also has a new coach in his corner, charged with helping him break through to claim a first Grand Slam title. Nadal, too, is perhaps more vulnerable, with injuries having severely limited his schedule since last year’s Wimbledon. Still, after surviving a five-set epic against American qualifier Tim Smyczek in the second round, he has won his last two matches in straight sets, including against 14th seed Kevin Anderson.
“For me the quarterfinals is a great result. Arriving here, losing in the first round of Qatar, not playing matches for the last seven months, to have the chance to be in quarterfinals again here is a very positive thing for me. I'm very happy for that. [But] I am not a person that I am happy like this and that's it. No. I try to play better and better every day. If that happens, I hope to keep having chances for the next match.”
Also on Tuesday at the Australian Open, will be the first two women’s quarterfinals. Third seed Simona Halep will continue her quest for a first Grand Slam title when going up against Russian 10th seed Ekaterina Makarova. Following that opening match on Rod Laver Arena, 2008 champion Maria Sharapova will take on the breakthrough star of 2014, Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, in a hotly anticipated encounter.
Schedule: After the two women’s quarterfinals, beginning at 7 p.m. EST, Nadal will take on Berdych, with Murray and Kyrgios taking the court not before 3.15 a.m.
TV channel: The Tennis Channel has coverage from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., before ESPN2 takes over.