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Kyrgios to square off with childhood hero

Nick Kyrgios must stare down his childhood idol in a third-round blockbuster to keep his Australian Open dream alive.

Having sauntered into the last 32 without dropping a set, Kyrgios faces his first major test of the Open on Friday against flamboyant Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

A decade ago, when Tsonga was charging towards the 2008 final against Novak Djokovic, Kyrgios was a starry-eyed youngster in awe as he stalked the Ali-lookalike around Melbourne Park for autographs.

“I was 12. I went to all his practice sessions with a new ball. He signed it every day,” Kyrgios recalled.

“I don’t know if he remembers. I didn’t miss one of his practice sessions.

“Obviously a guy I looked up to growing up. I’ve seen him play a lot. I know what he’s going to bring. He knows what I’m going to bring. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Five years later, Kyrgios won the Australian Open junior crown, thwarting his great mate Thanasi Kokkinakis in the boys’ final in his first-ever appearance on Rod Laver Arena.

Now the maturing 22-year-old Canberran is the same age as when Tsonga made the men’s final at the season-opening showpiece and says he may have finally outgrown Hisense Arena, the people’s court which has been his preferred option until now.

Kyrgios’s 7-5 6-4 7-6 (7-2) second-round win over Viktor Troicki on Wednesday night was plagued with disruptions.

A heckler was ejected, a helicopter hovered above for three games and problems with the PA system had the umpire’s microphone shut down as well as all audio on the court including music.

With Hisense lacking the usual upbeat vibe that Kyrgios thrives on, the 17th seed said he felt like he was playing at a different tournament.

“I felt like the atmosphere completely changed,” Kyrgios said.

“When you’ve got the microphones working, the music and stuff kind of puts you in a rhythm every game and I kind of lost my rhythm a little bit.”

The young hot-head admitted he may well have let the distractions drive him to defeat in the past.

Now Kyrgios wants his showdown with Tsonga to be played on Melbourne Park’s 14,820-seated centre court.

“I think I’m ready for it,” he said.

“I played a lot of matches on Rod Laver, I’ve hit on it a lot of times.

“Rod Laver is one of the best stadiums in the world. I remember the first time I played a match there, it was my junior final and I played well so I think I’ll be fine on it.”

Kyrgios lost a tight three-setter to Tsonga, the Open’s 15th seed, in their only previous meeting in Marseille last year.

Friday’s victor will play either Bulgarian third seed Grigor Dimitrov or rising Russian Andrey Rublev for a quarter-final berth.

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