An extraordinary mid-match pep talk from the chair umpire has fired Nick Kyrgios into a likely US Open third-round blockbuster with Roger Federer in New York.
Swedish official Mohamed Lahyani is already under fire for his unprecedented intervention, but Kyrgios rolls on after pulling off a drama-charged comeback win over Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Kyrgios was trailing 3-0 in the second set when Lahyani left his chair to beg the Australian to start trying for the sake of the paying crowd – and to avoid being sanctioned for not giving his best effort.
‘I want to help you,’ Lahyani repeated. ‘I’ve seen your matches: You’re great for tennis. Nick, I know this is not you.’
An extraordinary mid-match pep talk from the chair umpire has fired Nick Kyrgios into a likely US Open third-round blockbuster with Roger Federer
The Australian (pictured with Ajla Tomljanovic) trailing 3-0 in the second set when Lahyani left his chair to beg the Australian to start trying
Seeking some sort of physical treatment, Kyrgios said: ‘OK, just call the trainer to the court and I’ll try.’
But when the trainer arrived and asked what Kyrgios needed treatment for, the Australian said: ‘I don’t know, check my wrist or something… Can you just stay out here for like two minutes?’
The umpire’s controversial ‘coaching’ was savaged on social media, with fans furious about his perceived bias towards Kyrgios and claiming it was unfair on Herbert.
Former leading Australian umpire and one-time head of ASADA Richard Ings even weighed in.
‘I want to help you. I want to help you,’ Lahyani said. ‘I’ve seen your matches: You’re great for tennis. Nick, I know this is not you.’
Seeking some sort of physical treatment, Kyrgios said: ‘OK, just call the trainer to the court and I’ll try’
‘I am racking my brain to think of a situation requiring a chair umpire to speak like that to one player. I umpired thousands of matches. I was ATP head of officiating. I can’t think of one,’ Ings tweeted.
The USTA, already under siege over a succession of rules blunders this grand slam, was also understood to be unimpressed with Lahyani’s conduct and investigating the incident.
But it certainly seemed to work for Kyrgios, who hauled himself back into the contest having looked utterly disinterested in the early stages.
Yawning one second, Kyrgios delivered a return winner the next to break Herbert to get back on serve at 4-5 in the second set before offering a subdued fist pump towards his box.
He clinched the tiebreaker to draw level and then break Herbert early in the third set to take command.
Totally revitalised, Kyrgios dropped just three games in the final two sets, sealing victory after two hours and 47 minutes.
Federer was also playing a Frenchman, Benoit Paire, in his second-round match on Thursday.
A win for the 20-times grand slam champion would confirm a Saturday showstopper with Kyrgios, almost certainly under lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium, world tennis’s biggest stage.
Asked after the match what the umpire was saying to him when he trailed by a set and a break, Kyrgios said: ‘He was just concerned about how I was playing, like, ”Nick are you okay?”
‘He (Herbert) let me back into that set. He should have just served it out.
‘I stayed out here in the second set. I had no real choice.’