AUSTRALIAN teenager Nick Kyrgios sprang the biggest surprise of this year’s Championships so far when he knocked out Rafael Nadal in four sensational sets last night.
The unseeded 19-year-old blew the world No 1 away in a display of astonishing power, winning 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 with a performance that led John McEnroe to hail him as a champion in waiting, the likes of which has not been seen since the arrival of Boris Becker in the mid-1980s.
With a current ranking of 144 and having been a lowly 838th at the start of last season, Kyrgios is the first player outside the top 100 to beat a No 1 at a Grand Slam in more than 20 years. America’s Jim Courier was the victim in 1992, losing to Andrei Olhovskiy at Wimbledon, but that was a mere footnote in the tournament compared to the shockwaves created yesterday.
“I think we have found the next guy in the men’s game,” McEnroe said. “I couldn’t believe he could keep that up all match. He had this feeling about him that he absolutely believed that he would win. The last guy I saw like that was Boris Becker, a teenager who just believed he would beat everything that was put in his way.”
Becker won the first of his three titles here as a 17-year-old in 1985, when he was unseeded at a time when Wimbledon only had 16 seeds. By then, he was already world No 20, however: Kyrgios’s ascent has been altogether steeper and more sudden.
It was only last week that the man from Canberra beat a top-50 player for the first time – and that was Richard Gasquet, a gifted but fragile talent who is frequently prone to losing to more lowly-ranked opponents. Even then, Kyrgios had to save nine match points before making it through to the third round.
In other words, there was no conclusive evidence to suggest that Kyrgios would necessarily take Nadal all the way yesterday, never mind beat him in four sets. Perhaps Nadal’s own recent record here was more of an indication than Kyrgios’s form, for in 2012 and again last year, the Spaniard also fell in the early rounds.
He lost to Lukas Rosol in the second round in 2012, then fell to Steve Darcis at the first hurdle last year. That first defeat might be written off as a rare blip, the second as coincidence. But now that Nadal has gone out before the quarter-finals three years in a row, the questions about his ability to contend for the title again are growing louder.
Just a month past his 28th birthday, Nadal showed in winning this year’s French Open that he is far from a spent force on clay. But, in an age when younger men increasingly see him as vulnerable on grass, whether he can add to his two Wimbledon titles is another matter.
It was the ability to play brilliantly at full speed that gave Kyrgios the chance to defeat Nadal, and it was his fearlessness that allowed him to convert that chance. If he was downhearted after having his serve broken en route to losing the second set, the self-pity did not last for long. He roared back to win the third set on a tiebreak, then raced away with the fourth, barely able to contain his energy long enough to stand still between points as the end approached.
And he did it all without the routine words of parental support that are often deemed to be vital – his mother was reported to have said he would lose to Nadal. “Yeah, last night I was actually reading a comment that she thought Rafa was too good for me,” Kyrgios said.
“It actually made me a bit angry. You would think he’s in a whole ’nother level compared to me. I just believed in myself that I could create some opportunities. I took them under pressure today. I haven’t spoken to her yet, actually. I’ll just text her a smiley face.”
Nadal accepted that Kyrgios had been better than him when it counted, but insisted he had not had a bad tournament despite that third consecutive early exit. “I am satisfied the way that I played this Wimbledon,” the former champion said. “It’s true that my draw was not the best one. All the matches were uncomfortable against players that didn’t give you the opportunity to play a lot.
“I fought until the end in every single match. I was able to play some good tennis on this surface. That’s something that I was not able to do in the last two years But that’s tennis. That’s the sport on this surface. I felt in a way I am even not angry today because I feel that I lost the match losing only one time my serve during the whole match. I created my opportunities.”
In today’s quarter-finals, Kyrgios plays Milos Raonic, the No 8 seed who put out Kei Nishikori yesterday. The other tie in that half of the draw is an all-Swiss affair between Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, who beat Tommy Robredo and Feliciano Lopez respectively yesterday.
The matches in the top half have been known since Monday, meaning the players concerned were able to rest yesterday. Top seed Novak Djokovic meets Marin Cilic, while defending champion Andy Murray plays Grigor Dimitrov.