As soon as Donald Young started walking on to the court for his third round match on Saturday night, his opponent, Kei Nishikori, was announced behind him.
What followed was an almighty roar, the flapping of Japanese flags, and signs proclaiming “Kei” popping up all around the stands.
With what seemed like half of the Margaret Court Arena stands filled with excited Japanese fans, Young must have felt as if he’d stepped into a stadium in Tokyo rather than in Melbourne.
Admirably, he did a good job of channeling his focus and taking control of a good chunk of the opening set against the No.16 seed.
Yet what followed was one of the more spectacular collapses you’ll ever see in a Grand Slam match.
Leading 5-2 in the first set, Young went on to lose 17 of the next 18 games, Nishikori romping to a 7-5 6-1 6-0 victory and a fourth round berth at Melbourne Park for a third consecutive year.
The American called for the trainer at the end of the second set to work on his left shoulder, and perhaps the injury – which he’d shown no obvious signs of up until that point – contributed to the lop-sided scoreline.
But the match hinged on the ninth game of the first set, when Young stepped up to the line to serve for it leading 5-3, and threw in a forehand error and a double fault en route to being broken.
He never recovered.
“I was enjoying a lot because of you guys,” Nishikori said on court after the match, addressing the packed crowd and in particular the strong support from his Japanese fans.
“I was tired a little bit in the beginning, but also he was playing well. I was happy to finish strong in the second and third.”
Fabulous tennis from both men in the early stages of the match ensured an electric atmosphere on the new-look show court, and it was the former world No.1 junior Young who initially looked the most comfortable.
He broke serve in the second game to lead 2-0, and, showing a willingness to regularly attack the net – he advanced forward 19 times in the opening set compared to twice for Nishikori, keeping the Japanese player off-balance and constantly guessing.
Nishikori was error-prone, throwing away two break points in the third game to fall behind 3-0. And with Young’s forehand, especially up the line, constantly hurting his opponent, the American soon found himself with the aforementioned 5-2 lead.
Yet he visibly tightened, and when Nishikori levelled at 5-5 after relentlessly plying the ball side to side to draw an error, Young’s body language had entered very negative territory.
He admonished both himself and directed anger toward his entourage, yet it made little difference as Nishikori snapped a dipping backhand passing shot winner to break serve to love.
Two more clean winners followed in the next game – one off each wing – and Nishikori had reeled off five games in a row to take the opening set.
And it was one-way traffic from there.
The second and third sets combined to span a perfunctory 54 minutes. Nishikori maintained a very high level to produce 17 winners – 14 of which came in the clinical third stanza – while Young sprayed 16 errors in the second set, and managed a solitary winner in the third.
The only moment Young might have found himself appearing on the highlight reel came in the second game of the third set, when, after double-faulting twice and then erring again to drop serve, cracked his racquet and incurred a code violation.