Guts, guile and power beyond his years had Aussie teenager Nick Kyrgios two games from pulling off the biggest win of his short career against 28th seed Benoit Paire in the early hours of Friday morning before cramps and rock-solid play from the Frenchman tilted the ledger in a 6-7(5) 6-7(5) 6-4 6-2 6-2 result.
Before a heaving Margaret Court Arena crowd, including a large contingent of Fanatics and Greek-Australian support group, the 183rd-ranked wildcard went down swinging, unable to walk at stages deep in the fifth set with cramp.
Paire looked to have let the match slip after relinquishing five set points to drop the opening set and letting another two slip in losing the second set.
Leading two sets to love and a break up in the third, Kyrgios – who scored his maiden Australian Open main draw win over German Benjamin Becker on Tuesday – played a loose game at 4-4.
With the French 24-year-old serving for the set, Canberra native Kyrgios thumped a running forehand winner to bring up two break points, but it was a brief surge.
Paire closed it out 6-4 and broke serve at 2-2 in the fourth.
Kyrgios, by now, was shaking his legs, trying in vain to ward off the onset of cramps.
From there, he would win only two more games, but barely able to move, continually got back up off the court and fought until the end.
“I honestly started feeling it halfway through the third set. I always was going to feel it sometime through that match,” Kyrgios said.
“I thought he managed himself better throughout the match and that's why he came out on top. It was a really fun night. It motivates me to get out there again and have another shot.”
Upon sealing the victory after 200 minutes, Paire embraced his younger opponent and pointed to him as if to acknowledge Kyrgios was a serious contender for the future.
“It was really a pleasure to play here ... I think he was playing unbelievable in first two sets, 200km/h all the time, a lot of aces. For me he’s a really good player,” Paire said.
“I’m really happy. To me, honestly, I think he was a little bit tired after the third and the fourth (sets), he was cramping. But I wish him the best in the next year.”
Paire progresses to play Roberto Bautista Agut for a place in the fourth round after the Spaniard shocked fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro, dumping the 2009 US Open champion out of the tournament in five sets on Thursday night.