MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Nick Kyrgios said he steered clear of a “very dark place” after suffering a minor meltdown during his 6-2 6-4 4-6 7-5 win over Gilles Simon in the second round of the Australian Open on Thursday.

The 23rd seed, Australia’s best hope of a men’s champion at Melbourne Park, appeared on course for a straightforward victory with a cushion of two sets and a break against the 35-year-old Frenchman.

But things suddenly went awry for him when back-to-back double faults put the set back on service before another error set up a break for the Frenchman to win the third set.

“I definitely lost my way a little. He’s a tough competitor. He knows how to win matches … I could have gone to a very dark place in the fourth set but I somehow put it away,” said Kyrgios, who will meet Russia’s Karen Khachanov next.

“That would have been very interesting if it went to a fifth set.”

“I thought I lifted in the fourth. I put my head down. I told myself … just get to work,” he added.

The Australian managed to regroup in the fourth set and converted his fourth breakpoint at 5-5 to nose ahead and then produced three of his 28 aces to complete the victory with a thunderous roar.

Kyrgios, who divides opinions for his long rap sheet of indiscretions, needed all the support he could get from a rowdy partisan crowd at the packed Melbourne Arena, his favourite court at his home Grand Slam.

“It’s epic. You guys are awesome. That’s why I usually request playing on here as long as I can. It’s such a home feel. You guys really get behind me. I love it,” Kyrgios said.

Temperamentally for Kyrgios, the match was essentially of two halves.

He stayed focused during the long rallies to break Simon’s opening service games in the first two sets.

Kyrgios lost his cool for the first time during the second set when he was given a time violation warning and the mercurial Australian reacted with an impersonation of Rafa Nadal’s pre-service routine, drawing a smile from the chair umpire.

Nadal, who was also mocked by Simon when the Frenchman got a warning for time violation, is a possible fourth round opponent for Kyrgios.

The Australian, who has been placed on probation by the governing body of men’s tennis for his behaviour, also had a go at his player’s box during the third set.

“I apologised as soon as I went back into the locker room. They don’t deserve that. No, it’s not acceptable from me,” said Kyrgios, who has recently received wide applause for his central role in raising funds and awareness for Australia’s devastating bushfires.

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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