In the sudden absence of Novak Djokovic, no. 2 seed Stan Wawrinka now leads the title charge in Dubai. But to continue his quest he must defeat on-fire Nick Kyrgios in the quarterfinals. They go head-to-head on Friday at 5pm local time (1pm GMT.)
We all knew that Nick Kyrgios was talented. Super talented. Despite having yet to break the top 20, the 20-year-old Aussie is one of the future headliners of the game. From his raw power and booming groundstrokes – not to mention his lethal serve – that marked him out as a teenager, to wins over Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in 2014 and 2015, the world has been left in little doubt that we have a real tennis player on our hands.
And yet Nick Kyrgios has done one thing ever-so-consistently: Make headlines for controversial reasons. From eruptions on court to, erm, using a phone on court, the Aussie star has become one of the game's best known names - for the wrong reasons. Yet these stories happen so often because, while they are consistent, something else was not: His brilliant game.
Nevertheless, the past few days have suggested a change for the better.
Before his run to the Marseille title last week – his first ATP title of his career – Nick Kyrgios had never beaten Tomas Berdych in an official match. The Czech had won their only meeting as recently as January. The big-serving 30-year-old – ranked world no. 6 at that point in time – looked convincing during a four set win in the Australian Open third round, the result leaving Kyrgios 'heartbroken'.
Yet perhaps that stumble did more for the 20-year-old than a win ever could have done. Picking himself up off the floor, Kyrgios seized the opportunity of a whack at the established player in his next two tournaments. And while his first win over Berdych was a vague surprise in scoreline, his latest was superbly impressive – and shocking.
In Marseille, Kyrgios was on a roll towards the closing stages – sweeping three straight-setted top 20 wins to claim the trophy. These came versus Richard Gasquet – against whom he possessed a poor head-to-head record – Berdych and former US Open champion Marin Cilic. His statistics in each were scary – especially versus Berdych, in a match he won 6-4 6-2.
But his victory on Thursday was simply stunning. Despite his ranking of no. 33 denying him a seed yet again, he struck 10 aces and saved all four break points he faced for a 6-4 6-4 victory – after Tomas Berdych having declared he had 'a lot to give him back for last week.'
Nick Kyrgios' reward for the victory is a showdown with an even tougher opponent: Stan Wawrinka. The world no. 4 had looked on a downward spiral coming into the event: The highs of a title win at the beginning of the year ebbing at the Australian Open, where he succumbed to Milos Raonic in the fourth round. A loss to Benoit Paire in his second Marseille match – against whom he dominated his head-to-head – left Dubai a needful event in which to regain form.
And so far, the Swiss has done just that. After a second three-set victory over Sergiy Stakhovsky in less than a week, he went on to defeat qualifier Franko Skugor 7-5 6-1, before his latest win over Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarterfinals. Facing the dark horse and consistent challenger of the elite, Wawrinka secured another 7-5 6-1 win – beating the no. 8 seed in their first meeting in eight years. And with the sudden exit of Novak Djokovic, the one-handed-backhander could now be called favourite for the title.
But before that he will have to face off with Kyrgios. Their rivalry has become all the more juicy since the younger's infamous 'sledge' during their Canada clash last year. They may have competed on the same IPTL team since, but it has still left an edge to their clashes that the sharp tennis world generally anticipates.
Stan Wawrinka and Nick Kyrgios are tied at one-all in their rivalry, but only one meeting was won outright. Both came during the course of last year, with Wawrinka securing a 6-3 6-4 victory on the grass of London's Queen's Club. In their most dramatic encounter, however, Kyrgios emerged the victor by default, coming through 6-7(8) 6-3 4-0 as his opponent retired. Their semifinal on Friday will be the deepest stage of a tournament they have ever faced off in.
Can Stan Wawrinka remain the highest-ranked man standing in Dubai? He faces Nick Kyrgios for a place in the final at 5pm local time (1pm GMT.)