Tennis titans make FAST4 a hit in Sydney
Spanish legend Rafael Nadal, exciting top 10 talent Dominic Thiem and top two Australian stars Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic lit up Sydney's ICC in a FAST4 spectacular.
The anticipation began building hours before players were set to take to the court.
It started when Rafa Nadal was spotted holding a wombat at Barangaroo. It continued when Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic joined young players on the International Convention Centre (ICC) rooftop for the Hot Shots Red Ball Challenge.
It grew when these stars of the FAST4 Showdown: AUS v WORLD event began arriving on the blue carpet; first Tomic, then Kyrgios, the Dominic Thiem. Shrieking fans craned their necks when Nadal emerged – phone cameras at the ready – the see the Spaniash legend in the flesh.
Balmy evening weather was the setting – Sydney had put on a fine meteorological show.
The people flocked inside – 8000 of them to be exact – to fill the impressive space, a wall of fans rising high, theatre-style, gazing expectantly at a stage cloaked by a black curtain. Interviewers delivered on the big screen a glimpse backstage, visiting the players in their dressing rooms for a last-minute chat.
A countdown commenced. The action was coming.
A silhouetted Kyrgios and Nadal emerged from behind the curtain which also revealed the blue court, running the length of the stage and positioning the crowd on the side, looking across the court.
It was tennis as they’d never before seen it.
The action began. The level was high. The pace fast. Kyrgios crunched aces at speeds hitting 220km/h. Rafa ran him ragged. Kyrgios came off court with the first set in hand, but breathing hard. The intensity was impressive.
So was their use of the power play. Urged by AUS and WORLD captains Lleyton Hewitt and Wally Masur, Kyrgios and Nadal both enacted this double-point strategy in the first set when they found themselves down a break point. They won those points, and with them, those games.
The thrilling match game to an apt conclusion – after splitting the first four sets, Kyrgios and Nadal faced off in a tiebreak to decide the match.
The young Aussie clinched it, enrapturing the crowd.
“It was fun. I didn’t think the level was going to be that high,” Kyrgios said. “I don’t think Rafa knows any other way than to go out and give 100 per cent. I’m going to take a lot of confidence from that.”
Added Nadal: “It was a good match. I enjoyed it. Very happy to be back here in Sydney again. (FAST4) is good promotion for our sport here in a very important country – country with a big tradition in the sport of tennis. Very excited to see the full crowd like this in an amazing theatre.”
Time for Tomic and Thiem.
A shotmaking spectacular between two players with some of the best hands in the game, their Aussie and the Austrian kept the energy high in the second of the singles matches at the ICC. At one stage, they played out an incredible rally that saw Thiem nail a half-volleyed winner up the line – behind his back.
Like the match before, the players split the first four sets. In the ensuing tiebreak, Tomic prevailed, clinching the event for Australia.
“It was a good experience. I thought we both played well and were focused. We wanted to grab the competition out of this. I needed it because I played a bad match in Brisbane, so I needed to take it seriously. And Dominic did as well,” Tomic said.
“So I’m happy with how we played, regardless of the format. It was high-quality tennis from both of us.”
Three years running now, Sydney has staged a memorable FAST4 exhibition taking the format to new heights each time.
Should it return to the Harbour City for the fourth year running, it promises to be another tennis treat.