The match changed complexion rapidly towards the final stages of the third set. Serving at 4-3, Kyrgios went slightly off his game and Simon saw his opportunity. On the second deuce, Kyrgios slung down two double faults and the game – and the momentum – was with the Frenchman.
From that moment Kyrgios won just two more points as Simon took the hard-fought third set in 54 minutes.
Kyrgios took time to fully regain his composure and a crucial break of serve in the 11th game of the final set created his chance to close it out in four entertaining sets.
Post-match Kyrgios was aware he had lost his composure.
“I lost my way,” Kyrgios said on court. “I could have gone to a very dark place in that fourth set but, somehow, I pulled it away.
“It was a tough match. I’m just glad to get through. It would have been interesting if it went to a fifth set.”
In front of a supportive, but at times clearly nervous, crowd Kyrgios displayed strong tactical nous as he targetted the veteran Frenchman’s weaknesses.
He dominated on the aces and ruthlessly exploited Simon’s slow second serve, especially early on.
Three breaks of serve in the opening games of the first three sets seemed to put Kyrgios on the path to victory.
Aside from the volatile Australian reacting negatively to his players’ box after Simon got back in the contest, there were otherwise only fleeting moments when Kyrgios would have previously lost his cool.
Once when chair umpire Jaume Campistol called a tough time violation on serve against him late in the second set, Kyrgios couldn’t help but react. But, importantly, he didn’t erupt.
Technically, it was a correct call but, as the TV commentators noted, giving a warning wasn’t a true feel of the moment as Kyrgios had delayed his serve waiting for the crowd to quieten.
“The clock went to zero but, gee, this guy serves quickly,” Jim Courier reflected on Channel Nine, referring to Kyrgios’ typical rapid-fire pattern between points.
So Kyrgios, to illustrate a point, imitated some of Nadal’s pre-serve traits. His message to the official was clear: ‘I’m annoyed, I won’t actually say anything and, hey, what about what other players do?’.
Noticeably, Kyrgios early on had by far the better of the long rallies against an accomplished and crafty player who was once entrenched in the world’s top 10.
Australia’s men’s team captain Lleyton Hewitt was again in the Kyrgios corner. Kyrgios, yet to progress beyond the quarters at the majors, was not afraid to issue the odd ‘C’mon’ after a big point or moment.
At the start of the match, Simon took some time to get out of the locker room – figuratively not literally – and copped his own warning for a time delay even before the first serve was hit down.
In contrast, Kyrgios was settled and broke to love immediately.
The first set was about tempo. And Kyrgios usually owned it. His pattern of tricky and unconventional shots – a ‘tweener here or there and flat fearsome forehands – seemed to catch Simon off guard.
In the seventh game the Australian pounced again and achieved the double break, winning the game with a backhand winner down the line. His next service game was seamless, closing out the opening set in 27 minutes.
Much like the opening set, Kyrgios earned a break of serve straight up in the second. Kyrgios had clearly thought about the best tactics and it showed.
Simon was getting absolutely nothing from his slow second serve. By midway through the second set the durable Frenchman had only won a third of points when his first serve had been off target.
“It’s one of the lightest second serves you’ll see at this level and Kyrgios is abusing it at the moment,” Courier said.
Yes, victory seemed inevitable from early in the second set and doubts arose in the final set. But Kyrgios will happily bank this win.
Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age