MELBOURNE, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Australia number one Nick Kyrgios blew a two-set lead and failed to convert a fifth-set match point before slumping out of his home grand slam with a 1-6 6-7(1) 6-4 6-2 10-8 defeat at the hands of Andreas Seppi on Wednesday.
The experienced Italian saved the match point with a sizzling forehand down the line and his 16th ace sealed the upset of the 14th seed at the end of a three-hour thriller.
“Maybe it was meant to be?” said Seppi, who blew a similar lead to Kyrgios on the same court in the fourth round two years ago.
“I couldn’t find my rhythm at the start, but I kept fighting and I played very well in the important moments in the end.”
Kyrgios, returning to tennis at the Australian Open after a ban for not trying at the Shanghai Masters ended his 2016 season, can only rue a big chance blown.
Looking fit, determined and committed, the 21-year-old had appeared to be coasting to victory in the third set of his contest against the 32-year-old on Hisense Arena.
A warning for swearing had been the only reminder of the more controversial side of the Australian’s character until Seppi broke his serve with a sizzling forehand return to take a 5-4 lead.
Kyrgios tossed his racket into the air as he walked back to slump into his chair disconsolate, the confidence and focus he had shown in the first 90 minutes of the contest gone.
World number 89 Seppi took full advantage, holding comfortably to take the third set before unleashing his silky strokes from the back of the court to race away with the fourth in 25 minutes.
Roared on by a crowd that had long ago shed any pretence of neutrality, Kyrgios grabbed three break points in the eighth game of the decider only for Seppi to save them all.
Kyrgios was now looking tired, keeping his movement at the back of the court to a minimum and relying on his shots, including one “tweener” to stay in the match.
The 32-year-old pounced to break for 6-5 and while Kyrgios took advantage of some nerves to strike straight back, that only delayed his misery for a few more thrilling games before Seppi secured a third-round meeting with Belgian Steve Darcis. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Pritha Sarkar)