Nick Kyrgios carried his red-hot form from the American hard courts onto the red clay in Houston with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Mackenzie McDonald on Tuesday. After reaching the quarter-finals in Indian Wells and the fourth round in Miami at the year’s first ATP Masters 1000 events, the wild card Aussie started strong at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. US Men’s Clay Court Championship.
Playing his unique brand of attacking and entertaining tennis, Kyrgios took some time to find his footing in what was his first clay appearance since Rome in 2019.
“Clay is obviously not my preferred surface, but I just served really well and started playing more aggressive and just found another gear,” the Aussie said of his comeback win. “I did slip and slide a little bit, but my game actually suits the clay quite well. It’s a great atmosphere out here and the crowd’s pretty involved, so I’m looking forward to continuing to progress through the event.”
Each set was decided by a single, early break. After Kyrgios dropped serve in the fifth game of the match, he navigated two tough service games and saved a pair of break points early in the second before turning the match around. McDonald did not face a break point in the opening set, but dropped serve twice on 11 break points in sets two and three.
The change in match dynamics was also highlighted by the Kyrgios ace count: He recorded 18 aces in the one-hour, 52-minute contest, with 16 of those coming in the last two sets. As he grew comfortable late in the match, Kyrgios turned on the style with a tweener lob, surprising his opponent and drawing an error at net.
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“[Mackenzie] is an amazing player, “Kyrgios added, referencing the American’s win over him in Washington in 2021 – their only previous ATP Head2Head meeting.” He’s a tricky one because he doesn’t make too many errors. “
He awaits the winner of seventh seed Tommy Paul’s matchup with Peter Gojowczyk in the second round.
Two all-American matches opened play on the Houston stadium court prior to the Kyrgios win. In the day’s first match, wild card JJ Wolf scored a 6-4, 6-4 win over eighth seed Jenson Brooksby by breaking serve in the final game of each set. The 23-year-old Wolf was not only making his debut in Houston, but was playing his first tour-level match on clay. With the upset over the World No. 36 – who was playing in just his second tour-level match on clay – Wolf earned his first ATP Tour win against a fellow American.
Two-time Houston champion Steve Johnson also followed that with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win over Denis Kudla. The only multiple-time winner in the Houston field (2017-18), Johnson improves to 6-1 in tour-level opening rounds on the 2022 season. He dropped serve just once on four break points in the match, though it came at a crucial time as he served to stay in the second set. But after breaking for 3-2 in the decider, the American powered through the finish line with three love holds.
All the action from Houston ATP 250 event can be seen on ESPN3 in the US