The hard road to French Open glory begins in the third round for Nick Kyrgios, whose potential path to La Coupe des Mousquetaires is now littered with top-10 talents.
Kyrgios will match his best-ever return at Roland Garros with Friday’s third round appearance, but with the relative easybeats dispatched in straight sets only the biggest hurdles remain for the only Australian male left in the singles draw.
The 21-year-old’s French nemesis Richard Gasquet is the first road block, before a likely fourth-round match against in-form fifth seed Kei Nishikori and then a potential crack at second seed Andy Murray in the quarter-finals.
Murray remains second favourite for the tournament as he attempts to win his first French Open title, despite struggling to two five-set wins in his opening fixtures this week.
The world No.2 entered Roland Garros in terrific form, having dispatched Novak Djokovic in straight sets on clay to win in Rome last week on the back of a three-set loss to the world No.1 in the Madrid final.
Kyrgios has won five matches against top-10 talent this year, including memorable wins over third seed Wawrinka on clay in Madrid and Gasquet on the hard courts of Marseille in February.
In fact, only Djokovic has a better record against the world’s top-10 in 2016.
Crucially, however, Kyrgios has a losing head-to-head against all of Gasquet, Nishikori and Murray.
It could be worse – Kyrgios landed on the opposite side of the draw to raging favourite Djokovic and nine-times champion Rafael Nadal, while defending champion Stan Wawrinka won’t appear until the semi-finals.
Fortunately, Kyrgios likes the big stage.
It is there that he is able to feed off the crowd’s energy and where his showmanship becomes as big a weapon as his forehand.
“I just feel a lot more experienced at the grand slams,” Kyrgios said after his straight sets win over Dutch lucky loser Igor Sijsling on Wednesday.
“I feel like I’m still young, but I have played a lot of grand slam matches now.
“I feel like a lot of the players know that I feel comfortable playing on the big stage.
“And I think it’s just important to, if you can, conserve energy in these matches.
“When you get to the second week, if you get there, you feel a lot more refreshed and more prepared for those tough matches.”
KYRGIOS v GASQUET
Played: 6, Gasquet leads 4-2
2016 Marseilles (indoor): Kyrgios bt Gasquet 6-0 6-4
2015 Cincinnati (hard): Gasquet bt Kyrgios 6-2 6-1
2015 Wimbledon (grass): Gasquet bt Kyrgios 7-5 6-1 6-7 (9-7) 7-6 (8-6)
2015 Estoril (clay): Gasquet bt Kyrgios 6-3 6-2
2014 Wimbledon (grass): Kyrgios bt Gasquet 3-6 6-7 (7-4) 6-4 7-5 10-8
2014 Davis Cup (clay): Gasquet bt Kyrgios 7-6 (7-3) 6-2 6-2