THEY do not come any more different: Andy Murray, the man who believes that a grey shirt is a little too bright for work wear and Nick Kyrgios, he of the diamond earring, the psychedelic outfits and the sharp haircut.
Today they will meet for the third time in their careers with a place in the fourth round of the French Open at stake. So far, the 20-year-old Kyrgios has yet to take a set from Murray, but the big man from Canberra is improving month by month.
With a thundering serve and a love of the spotlight, Kyrgios likes nothing more than taking on the biggest names on the biggest stages. And with wins over Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon last summer and Roger Federer in Madrid just a few weeks ago, he knows he can beat them, too.
Fortunately, Murray knows all about what Kyrgios has to offer. The Australian is one of the young players whom Murray has taken under his wing – Murray practises regularly with Kyrgios and his countryman, Thanasi Kokkinakis, and he takes a particular interest in their progress.
Having tracked Kyrgios’s rise through the rankings to his current position of No 30, Murray knew he had to be controlled and imposing from the first ball of their quarter-final encounter at the Australian Open in January and that he will have to be just as dominant today.
“It is so hard to say how good someone can be,” Murray said. “But, obviously, from the young guys, he has had maybe the biggest results at the biggest events. That is a great start. He has always played well in the Slams, he has always won matches in them, even when he got a wildcard the first time here when he beat Radek Stepanek when he was pretty young.
“Wimbledon last year was a great run for him. That is a huge step and shows that he loves being in those positions. How good can he be? I have no idea. But he is already pretty good. He has had some great wins in some big events and it is just about maintaining that throughout the year in all competitions to build confidence and belief. He is going to be great player. But you never know how great someone can or will be.”
When they played in Melbourne, Murray was taking on the centre court crowd, all 15,000 of them, as well as Kyrgios. Determined to silence the local supporters before they had a chance to build up any atmosphere in the Rod Laver Arena, Murray responded to the loss of his first two service points in the match by banging down a run of eight service winners and aces to show the younger lad just who was boss.
When Kyrgios had the temerity to break the Murray serve after nearly two hours of play, the Scot broke straight back and snuffed out any hint of a challenge.
“I expected when I went on the court how the crowd would be – making a lot of noise and they were,” Murray said. “When you prepare yourself for that, mentally, when that does happen, it is not a shock. If you don’t and you just think this is going to be fine, then it can wind you up a bit. So it is important to prepare yourself for what each match is going to bring and what the opponent brings. And, obviously, I know that when you play Nick, he is going to bring a lot of energy and aggression. He is going to be quite loud on the court and you have got to be ready for that.”
Kyrgios has less fond memories of that night in Melbourne. It was his chance to shine at his home Grand Slam but he was put firmly in his place.
“I was struggling then, physically. I had issues with my back – it wasn’t very good,” Kyrgios said. “I’m feeling fitter and stronger this time but, saying that, Andy’s one of the best players on tour at the moment. He’s had some great results on clay. Winning Madrid was massive. He played unbelievably. But I’ve had good results too.
“Andy’s been really nice to me, and to the young guys he has almost mentored us and offered to hit. I think he’s a great role model and, if I was going to ask for help, he’d be someone I’d turn to. But you’ve still got to put that to one side when you go out and play him: you watch him on TV and all of a sudden I’m playing him in the third round of the French Open. It’s a tough situation.”
It is tough, all right, and it is a situation that will require experience and nous to deal with. In that respect, the odds are tipped in Murray’s favour. Kyrgios is certainly a star for the future and on his way to the top – he just may not arrive at his destination this afternoon.