Nick Kyrgios v Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon: Get ready to strap yourself in for the greatest-ever tennis match
Throw a sickie, work from home, phone the boss to say the dog ate that important report which had been due in tomorrow. For you won’t want to miss what will be “the most-watched tennis match of all time”.
Who says so? Nick Kyrgios, that’s who, and arguing with him is pointless. Just ask the nine spectators he berated mercilessly throughout his quarter-final. These poor folk, he had them standing bolt upright like naughty schoolchildren, heads drooped onto chests in shame, while he screamed at them. And these were the occupants of his box, his team, the nearest and dearest who weren’t quite backing him sufficiently.
He is Nick Curious for sure. And in this weird, wacky but wonderful Wimbledon he just gets Kyrgios-er and Kyrgios-er.
So who will he be playing in this absolute must-see? Rafael Nadal, but only just. The mighty Spanish bull almost had to give up on his quest for a calendar-year Grand Slam but, grimacing through the pain and forced for a while to function on reduced power, he somehow found a way to win.
These two have history. Kyrgios announced himself to the world when he beat Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014, Rafa not being over-enamoured by the outrageous Aussie’s tweeners. At the tournament in 2019 Kyrgios lost but landed a blow on his opponent’s muscle-plated frame with a venomous shot.
He had better not try the same again tomorrow and especially not anywhere near the stomach. “In the abdominals, something is not going well, to be honest,” Nadal told Centre Court after a five-set thriller against America’s Taylor Fritz lasting four hours and 21 minutes. “I hope to be ready to play my next match.”
And as if yesterday didn’t contain enough drama, Kyrgios opened up after his victory over Chile’s Cristian Garin about the dark, dark place in which he found himself and from where he might never have emerged.
His win came in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), but really nothing is ever really straight in Nick’s world. He sat motionless in his chair on No1 Court for several minutes, thinking, he said, about “how things change”.
He continued: “There was a point where I was almost done with the sport. I posted this year about the kind of mental state I was in at the Australian Open in 2019: self-harm and suicidal thoughts and stuff.
“So I was sitting after my match … to be a semi-finalist at Wimbledon, it’s a special accomplishment for everything, but I think especially for me.”
Possibly Kyrgios rarely enters the fray with a calm, clear head - the reason he doesn’t have a coach is it would be cruel “to inflict that burden on anybody” - but yesterday must have been especially murky for him, having learned 24 hours before that he is to face charges in an Australian court of assaulting a former girlfriend. “Obviously I have a lot of things I want to say, kind of my side about it, “ he said, “[but] I’ve been advised by my lawyers [not to do so at this time].
He said the summons “didn’t affect” him going into the match but something did. From the start, with the 26-year-old Garin breaking serve in the opening game, he was ranting in the direction of his box. Many times when he lost points there would be murderous looks and now and again some sarcasm: “Well done, good stuff!”
But in the first two sets he didn’t spill many. His serve was clobbering and some retrievals didn’t seem possible with a racket and maybe Garin, who couldn’t get going, the drop shot being especially impotent, should have asked the umpire to check his opponent hadn’t used a giant comedy soup ladle.
Then in the third set, as sometimes happens with Kyrgios, he lost focus. The match was too easy, maybe, and with Garin being braver with the forehand and forcing break points out of Kyrgios, the incorrigible, irresistible nutter of SW19 - and that’s a compliment, Nick - mumped and moaned some more. “Great energy, you guys!” he roared at the unfortunate nine before edging the tiebreak. Afterwards he admitted that even after the lowest of the low points in 2019 there were times during the last 18 months when he thought he’d “lost the love, the fire, the spark” for tennis. Then everything changed. “I’ve got a lot of people that want me to play, that I play for.”
Speaking while Nadal was still scrapping, Kyrgios said he hoped his old foe would win. “We’ve had some absolute battles here. Obviously two completely different personalities but I feel we respect the hell out of each other.”
Midway through the second set, though, that prospect seemed bleak. Nadal left the court for treatment with his father and sister gesticulating wildly, the 22-Slam legend confirming later they wanted him to throw in the towel. “It would have been tough [to retire],” he said. “I’ve had to do it a couple of times before and it’s something I hate. So I decided to keep trying.”
The 24-year-old Fritz - despite looking like a spindly college kid on spring break when compared with the magnificent specimen across the net, but then who doesn’t? - played the tennis of his life. But it wasn’t quite enough against the guts, fire and quest for immortality possessed by Nadal who was simply too experienced and too powerful in the match-break, ultimately prevailing by 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-4).
Will he be okay for Kyrgios? “I don’t know, honestly,” he said. Let’s hope that manana is another day.
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