After six weeks on the sidelines due to a right elbow injury, Nick Kyrgios rejoined the tour at the Miami Open a few weeks ago, making it to the fourth round of the tournament. And on Wednesday night the Australian made a triumphant start to his second tournament back, rallying from a set down to beat American Bjorn Fratangelo in his opening match at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. US Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston.
Kyrgios’ injury lay-off came at the most inopportune time—he was off to an excellent start to the 2018 season, winning Brisbane and extending his winning streak to seven matches in a row to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open (where he fell to Grigor Dimitrov). He almost got back to his career-high ranking, too—he went from No. 21 to No. 14 in that time, one off his career-best No. 13.
He played Davis Cup the week after the Australian Open but then had to withdraw from four straight tournaments—Rotterdam, Delray Beach, Acapulco and Indian Wells—with the hurt right elbow.
In Mimi, Kyrgios was just hoping to get his groove back, but he ended up showing much more than that—he even beat fellow Top 20 player Fabio Fognini before falling to then-No. 5 Alexander Zverev.
“You know, I came to [Miami] not really expecting too much,” Kyrgios said. “I’ve obviously been struggling with injury. A couple of days before the tournament I was having back spasms, so I’ve been nowhere close to 100%. And still beating these guys is a good confidence boost for me.”
During that run in Miami it was announced Kyrgios had received a wild card into Houston, and on Wednesday night the Australian—who’s also the No. 4 seed at the ATP tour 250-level event, the only clay-court event in North America—got off to a winning start against Fratangelo, blasting 21 aces en route to a 6-7 (2), 6-1, 6-2 victory.
The win was icing on the cake for someone who has said his main goal right now is to play pain-free.
“To go out there and get through a match without having pain is a success for me,” Kyrgios said going into the tournament. “Obviously I want to go out there, win matches, win a tournament. I’m more than capable of that. But at this stage it’s more about making sure my body can sustain match pressure.”
Most of Kyrgios’ biggest successes so far has come on the faster surfaces. All four of his ATP titles are on hard courts, his two Grand Slam quarterfinals have come at Wimbledon in 2014 (grass) and the Australian Open in 2015 (hard), and he’s 93-47 on hard and grass combined (.664).
Meanwhile, he’s 24-18 in his career on clay, or .571—but he’s hoping to change that moving forward.
“If you’re pretty physically strong you have good success [on clay],” Kyrgios said. “For me I think it’s just about being disciplined. You can’t shorten the points as much as you can on other surfaces.
“I’m just pretty grateful to be in a healthier state of mind and ready to get going.”