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Unexpected Nick Kyrgios injury withdrawal leaves fans chasing new hope

Jason Kubler's win was popular with fans at Melbourne Park on Monday.

Jason Kubler's win was popular with fans at Melbourne Park on Monday. Photo: Getty

A punishing Monday practice session with best buddy Thanasi Kokkinakis was the moment Nick Kyrgios knew his Australian Open 2023 was over.

‘Brutal’ and ‘devastating’, said Kyrgios of the cyst growing in a small tear on his left knee that has derailed his Aussie summer. It was as unexpected, publicly, as it was final.

At 3.50pm on Monday a text went out to all journos at Melbourne Park, Nick Kyrgios is heading to the media room right now. Very unusually the message was all in caps. We feared what was coming.

He was wearing the identical clothes as at his Saturday media day outing, but the face was glum and accepting.

There will be no charge at the AO singles title this year or defending of his doubles crown, won with Kokkinakis last January. Kyrgios is out of this year’s AO.

The 26-year-old was disconsolate, bereft and bold in what he had to say.

Australian hope Nick Kyrgios was disconsolate. Photo: Getty

“Honestly, I’m just exhausted from everything and obviously (it’s) pretty brutal. One of the most important tournaments of my career, it hasn’t been easy at all,” Kyrgios said.

The shock was seismic, the damage to the first week of the tournament – where Kyrgios has been the must-see star for several years now – is immense.

“Obviously this coming around is just bad timing, but that’s life,” Kyrgios said.

“Injury is a part of the sport. I guess I can draw some inspiration from someone like Thanasi, who has had a bunch of injuries and has bounced back.

“I’m not doubting I will be back to my full strength and playing the tennis I was playing prior to this event. I’m devastated obviously, it’s like my home tournament. I’ve had some great memories here,” he said.

Kyrgios injury diagnosis

Here’s what we know medically, with help from Kyrgios’ long-term physio Will Maher.

Nick has a parameniscal cyst, the result of a small tear. It could morph into something much more serious if left untreated.

The Kyrgios camp used a syringe to try and drain the cyst (Nick has some pretty gruesome photos here, proffered Maher).

Kyrgios then played against Djokovic in the Friday bash but “didn’t pull up great”.

The Friday night exhibition, with Thaadhie Karunanayake, did not end well injury wise. Photo: Getty

He will head to Canberra this week for an arthroscopic procedure to clean up the lateral meniscus and remove the paralabral cyst. Playing at the Indian Wells (Masters) tournament starting on March 6 is realistic, Maher said.

“We don’t know when the tear happened but Nick began to talk about discomfort in his knee in the past two weeks,” Maher said.

The cyst could have been in place for some time but is only an issue once it grows.

“It’s only in the last fortnight it has become a problem,” Maher said.

Public confusion

The last sentence opens up further speculation after Kyrgios was pilloried for his last-gasp withdrawal from the Australian team for the 18-country United Cup in early January with an ankle injury.

A “precautionary approach,” said TA boss Craig Tiley at the time.

An unsavoury social media spat ensued with Lleyton Hewitt when Kyrgios gave the Davis Cup captain no notice or explanation of his injury.

The fallout was played out publicly with neither side pulling up well.

Monday’s knee announcement will thrust great sympathy upon Kyrgios and while better communication in early January would undoubtedly have helped, there will likely be confusion as to whether January was ankle driven or perhaps early notice of the meniscus disablement.

As Kyrgios was pulling out, in late afternoon it appeared an even bigger name might be exiting too.

Nadal overcomes struggles

Defending champion Rafael Nadal – with a men’s record 22 major singles titles – struggled on Rod Laver Arena against British youngster Jack Draper before prevailing in four sets.

Nadal looked frazzled at times, as would have been Tiley if he was watching.

To lose two of the three great stars in one day (Novak Djokovic, the third) would have been beyond careless.

Some better late-evening news via a raucous, partisan crowd on court 3 – the arena immediately seen by spectators who enter Melbourne Park from the tram entrance – and the best match of AO 2023 so far.

Veteran John Millman again makes a point about his resilience on Monday. Photo: Getty

Millmania returns

There is no more popular player than John Millman, but 2022 for the Queenslander was a debilitating mix of injury and a consequent slide in rankings that saw him win just one match across all four majors.

January 2023 wasn’t looking too hot either for Millman when the Swiss player Marc-Andrea Huesler took a two-sets-to-one lead on court 3 but the resilient Millman – ranked 148 and forced to rely on a wildcard just to play this AO – fought back admirably, dropping just five games in the last two sets.

More than four hours play with an 8.20pm finish and a welcome dose of Millmania once more, Wonderful stuff.

Gadecki on song

Another winning Queenslander is the Gold Coast’s Olivia Gadecki, just 20 years old and world-ranked 199.

As with all other Aussie women this year she entered the main draw courtesy of a wildcard and saw off 19-year-old qualifier Polina Kudermetova in two sets.

Olivia Gadecki enjoys her win against Polina Kudermetova on Monday. Photo: Getty

Personal details for Gadecki are scarce. The AO website shows neither where she was born or where she lives but that is more than the WTA site, which has a blank even in place of her age.

For the record, she started playing tennis aged just three and Ash Barty is a mentor and pal.

Gadecki had lost her only singles matches this year – one in the United Cup, one in Auckland.

But served strongly and accurately on court 8 and on clinching the match with an ace, dropped her racquet, wrapped with hands around her face and pointed joyously to her band of lively supporters. It was a well-deserved triumph.

Later, she bounded into the interview room and her face lit up – which a winner’s cheque just shy of $160,000 can do for you.

Other plaudits followed, a text from Barty although no detail was revealed.

“Some things I would like to keep to myself” she said.

The beam was genuine and constant, her answers fluent if short (she is only 20.)

The face slipped momentarily when her 2022 AO absence (she was unvaccinated against COVID-19) popped up.

“Look, there’s not really much to discuss. I made a decision and at the end of the day I’m here playing at the Australian Open. I’m really looking forward to my next match,” she said, a non-answer that perhaps betrays a steeliness that will serve her well.

She faces world No.57 Ukrainian, Marta Kostyuk on Wednesday, also 20 years old and another win, while high odds, is not inconceivable.

Jason Kubler accounts for Argentina’s Sebastian Baez on day one. Photo: Getty

Kubler can-do

Congrats too, to Jason Kubler, who saw off the higher-ranked Sebastian Baez in straight sets.

“Anyone know why Nick pulled out?” he asked at the end of his press conference, verification that everyone, anytime, wants to know about Nick.

It was a dramatic and, for some, traumatic day but this is what major tournaments are made of.

On Tuesday, we have the return of a certain, unvaccinated Serb plus nine Aussies in the singles. It really doesn’t get much better.

Wildcard frenzy

Local wildcard Rinky Hijikata pulled off a brilliant five-set win and will take on men’s third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open second round.

Hijikata appeared set for a quick exit when he lost his first two sets against German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann but fought back to prevail 4-6 4-6 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 in front of a parochial crowd.

“I’m lost for words. That was mental,” Hijikata said after the four-hour, 25-minute escape.

“I don’t really know what to say at the moment.

“I couldn’t have done it without the support today. I’m so grateful for everyone coming out. That is the most fun match I’ve ever played in my life.”

He’s lined up a crack at world No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas.

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