Australia’s Nick Kyrgios fought back from a set down to beat Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-3, 6-0 in the U.S. Open second round on Thursday, but it was the pep talk he received from chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani midway through the second set that is garnering all the attention.
Down a set and 0-3 in the second, Kyrgios was visited by Lahyani who stepped down from his chair and told him: “I want to help you. This isn’t you. I know that.”
Lahyani was addressing Kyrgios’ apparent lack of effort, but the comments garnered a ton of backlash on social media from people saying the umpire was coaching Kyrgios.
The 30th-seeded Kyrgios would still trail 2-5 in that second set before launching his comeback. He fought back to take the second set, and completely turned up his level from there, winning 12 of the final 15 games to win the final three sets of the match and advance.
“I’m not sure it was encouragement. He liked me. I’m not sure if that was encouragement. He just said that it’s not a good look,” said Kyrgios. “Look, I wasn’t feeling good. I know what I was doing out there wasn’t good. I wasn’t really listening to him, but I knew it wasn’t a good look. It didn’t help me at all. Like, I was down 5-2. If it was 3-0, and maybe if I would have come back and won six games in a row, fair enough. [But] it didn’t help me at all.”
Of the incident, Herbert said: “I don’t know what to think. I don’t know if something happened, if Mohamed would have said something or not, it wouldn’t have changed anything. I cannot tell you. I just can tell you from that point Nick was playing much better.”
Up next for Kyrgios is second-seeded Roger Federer, who rolled to a 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 victory over France’s Benoit Paire. Federer is 2-1 all-time against Kyrgios, but the Aussie will be ready to play his game in a match that will likely be under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Kyrgios. “I definitely know that I won’t be the favorite, the crowd favorite either. I go into this match with zero expectations. I do believe I can beat him. I have done it before. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The fourth-seeded Alex Zverev cruised 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over Nicolas Mahut, setting up a third-round clash with Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber, who knocked off Australia’s Matthew Ebden on Thursday.
“I feel like I'm playing well,” said Zverev. “I feel like today, he was a tough opponent. He had a few matches here already. He still knows how to play singles even though his ranking dropped a little bit, but that's more because he's playing more doubles now than singles. But he's still a great player. I had to focus from first moment to last and kind of play my game.
I'm happy to be through. Obviously, this is not me being satisfied. Of course I'm happy to be through, but, you know, I'm already thinking about my next match.”
Ebden’s compatriot, John Millman, upset 14th seed Fabio Fognini 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, while Mikhail Kukushkin upended 23rd seed South Korean Hyeon Chung 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-3.
Diego Schwartzman, the 13th seed who reached the quarterfinals last year, made his way into the third round with a 6-2, 6-0, 5-7, 6-2 victory over Spaniard Jaume Munar.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.