A cocky young Australian, shoulders rolling, wandered into what he admitted was Andy Murray’s “backyard”, having won all the advance publicity and promising to be a threat to the Scot. An hour and three-quarters later he was gone, the latest victim of the No 2 seed’s stunning straight-sets masterclasses.
Nick Kyrgios brought a swagger, a serve and some comedy to the Centre Court – but not even his much-publicised ‘tweener’ could save him as Murray, who was never once down a break-point, first bamboozled then demoralised the 21-year-old with magnificent mix-up tennis.
The big Wimbledon gathering on a day – second Monday of the tournament – with a great tradition for producing at least one blockbuster of a match had buzzed all afternoon for this one, and for Murray and Kyrgios to suspend the business of their mutual admiration society and fire balls at each other.
Firm friends, Murray had waded into the row over Kyrgios’s on-court histrionics claiming everybody was picking on him. Kyrgios then thanked Murray for his backing and said of their relationship: “It was love at first sight.”
The Centre crowd didn’t take long to get excited. First game, the umpire warned: “Ladies and gentlemen, please keep your enthusiasm until after the point is played.” They were being entertained by a game-within-a-game of undercutting on the backhand, first to hit the net-cord is a cissy. Kyrgios won that but Murray took the opening game with an ace.
Kyrgios has the most etiquette-challenging haircut at these championships, shorn at the sides with a Peaky Blinders thing going on up top. He looks like the edgiest kid in the edgiest teen surfer-dude indie flick that ever came out of Oz, the funny one who’d be smoking round the back of the lifeguard station rather than riding the waves.
Comparing the abilities of the two players in the build-up, Kyrgios said: “I don’t move nearly as well.” And early on there was firm evidence of Murray’s ability to burn up the 8mm grass and retrieve lost causes as he strove to reach his ninth Wimbledon quarter-final. Only Roger Federer, Boris Becker and Jimmy Connors have more to their names.
Against that Kyrgios pointed out he has something Murray doesn’t have, or at least doesn’t show – the tweener. The full-house on Centre were very keen to see the challenger open his legs and show his trick, but they had to be content with a lovely drop-shot as the early games went with serve.
Kyrgios had a sniff of a break in the fifth game thanks to a thundercrack of a forehand but he comically had his head in his hands when he blew the opportunity. The seventh and eighth games provided chances for both, neither taken, although while Murray was making winning shots – and there was another peach of a lob among them – Kyrgios wasn’t able to pass his opponent very often. This would have been down to what he called the “brick wall” Murray erects on court as his defence, though the Aussie’s serve was working well.
It was engrossing stuff with plenty of japery from Kyrgios with his silly running, an attempt at a second hit when he’d muffed the first, a ludicrous volley taken at shoulder-height and a joke with Murray when the latter scudded the ball at him at close-range. Then came the breakthrough, thanks to the shot of the match thus far – an astonishing crosscourt backhand from far back from Murray, who took the first set.
After giving the entourage in his box the sharp end of his tongue in previous matches, Kyrgios looked at them despairingly here, as if to say: “How the flip do I beat this guy?” The service break in the second set came in the fourth game and was quickly followed by another. Kyrgios was losing his composure along with his serve, booming shots like a public-park thrasher, and Murray wrapped up this set in 24 minutes compared with 44 for the first. The edge had come out of the contest now.
Kyrgios regained some of his focus in the third set, played good shots and also the most wayward one ever recorded – right over the roof and possibly coming to rest in a spectator’s strawberries and cream some distance away. But he never got close to Murray, his friend, who if he’s going to make the charge in tennis that some predict for him, should be the young buck’s inspiration.
Kyrgios is daft, unconventional, entertaining and talented but yesterday he came up against a man who thought he’d go with talent, nothing else, and the results were spectacular.
Kyrgios had lost his smile, too, but it returned as the players embraced at the end, possibly out of relief that the harsh lesson was over.