MELBOURNE, Australia -- At two sets to love and 4-2 up in the third, Australians all around the country were marking their calendars. Nick Kyrgios had all but locked up a must-watch fourth round encounter against familiar foe and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
The home hero was cruising against 16th seed Karen Khachanov on Melbourne Arena, all the while battling what appeared to be a nagging left hamstring strain - one which required him to take an extended medical timeout midway through the first set.
But just like he did in his second round match against Frenchman Gilles Simon, when holding an identical lead, Kyrgios went off the boil at exactly the wrong time.
From 4-2 up, he began attempting unnecessary trick shots and playing as if he'd already punched his ticket to the last 16.
Khachanov didn't need a second invitation. He broke back immediately and held his serve to level at four games apiece, before getting the better of Kyrgios in a tense tiebreaker.
"Déjà vu," exclaimed Kyrgios, in reference to the match against Simon where he also dropped the third set.
But unlike the match against Simon, Kyrgios couldn't quite compose himself in the fourth and get the match back on his terms. Meanwhile, Khachanov continued to fight and scrap away, sensing the fragile mental state of the crowd favourite.
Two match points came and went for Kyrgios and shortly after Khachanov had secured another tiebreaker, courtesy of some clutch ball striking. Just like that, the match was level and Kyrgios was visibly frustrated.
After tiebreakers in the second, third and fourth sets, perhaps it was fitting the match came down to a fifth-set tiebreaker. Kyrgios struck the first blow when he raced out to a 3-0 lead, but Khachanov mowed him down, eventually taking an 8-7 advantage in the all-important race to 10.
But Kyrgios hung tough and grinded out three straight points to send the crowd into raptures and himself into the fourth round of his home Slam, prevailing 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-7(6), 6-7(7), 7-6(8) in four hours and 26 minutes, the longest match of his professional career.
"It was crazy. I don't think the emotions have died down at all. I think I'm still running on adrenaline," Kyrgios said in his post-match media conference.
"That was definitely one of the craziest matches I've ever been a part of. It was insane. Had a match point in the third, a match point in the fourth.Then 8-7 down, I had all the thoughts ... I thought I was going to lose. I was thinking about the media if I lost, everything."
He also paid tribute to his Khachanov, who he described as an "amazing player" with an incredibly bright future on the tour.
"I don't know what to say. He's an absolute warrior," Kyrgios said. "He's younger than me and he's going to have an incredible career."
The tension of the final set tiebreaker wasn't the only drama on the night, during the fourth set Kyrgios engaged in a spat with chair umpire Renaud Lichtenstein.
Kyrgios had earlier dived across the court to strike a sensational winner, the resulting fall causing his left hand to bleed. As he was wiping the blood off in between points, Lichtenstein handed down a time violation.
"Are you stupid?" Kyrgios said. "Can you not see I'm bleeding? Do your job [and] take it back."
Nadal doesn't like Kyrgios' off-court behaviour
Rafael Nadal was asked whether he likes Nick Kyrgios after his straight-set win vs. Pablo Carreno Busta.
Kyrgios will now face Nadal for a place in the quarterfinals, but his left hamstring strain appears to be a concern ahead of his encounter with the 19-time Grand Slam champion.
The pair met twice last year, once in Acapulco which Kyrgios won with controversy attached, and again at Wimbledon where Nadal was victorious in four sets. Kyrgios said he was looking forward to having another battle with the world No. 1.
"I'm super excited. Playing one of the greatest tennis players on center court of your own slam is pretty cool," he said.
"It's going to be physical and nothing is ever easy with him ... I'm looking forward to it."