Court No 12 is tucked in a corner of Wimbledon. It’s not a show court but still has enough seating capacity to create an intimate, charged up atmosphere. It is meant for the big guys who are not big enough to get a billing at Centre Court. Perfect for a certain Nick Kyrgios, who pulls crowds as easily as he earns their disdain.
The talent is obvious, and by now, so is the Australian’s ability to waste it. Too often has Kyrgios resorted to needless tantrums and shenanigans that have cost him matches and money (fines). Tennis sometimes gets sidelined in conversations involving Kyrgios.
Around this time, a year ago, the 23-year-old was caught playing basketball while recovering from a hip injury.
In February, during the Davis Cup tie against Germany, he suffered an injury to his elbow. But this time he laid low — skipped certain tournaments, including the French Open, to recover for the grass season. This year has promised to be the season of serious change for the big Aussie.
And on Tuesday, when he walked onto court 12 for his first-round match against Denis Istomin, it was curious to see which side of Kyrgios would show up.
“I don’t think we really knew where he was at coming in,” veteran Sam Groth said to The Australian.
“He has played his cards fairly close to his chest. He didn’t play in Paris. I do think he is flying under the radar, but I don’t think there are too many guys who would want to be playing Nick Kyrgios on grass at Wimbledon, especially if he can get his serve going.”
Against the bespectacled Uzbek, Kyrgios’ serve hit new highs. He got 105 of his 144 first serves in, a remarkable strike-rate in a high-pressure match, and hit 42 aces enroute a 7-6(3), 7-6(4), 6-7(5), 6-3 win.
For two hours and 34 minutes, Kyrgios, the crowd-puller kept the audience entertained with his powerful strokes and even bigger serve — ideal weapons for grass.
At 23, the youngster is unlike most of the upcoming players. While most favour hard courts and clay, Kyrgios is adept at playing on the faster grass circuits. In fact, he had first burst onto the big stage on the grounds of Wimbledon itself, back in 2014 when he got the better of then World No 14 Richard Gasquet before ousting World No 1 Rafael Nadal. He finished that tournament in the quarter-finals, which, along with a last-eight finish at the Australian Open a year later, has been his best ever finish at a Grand Slam.
More often than not, Kyrgios has been a big-match player who has dropped his guard drop on court. An incorrect line call, that can be reversed via Hawk-Eye, can set him off. As can an errant member in the crowd, or even an unforced error of his own.
“The thing about Nick, he is his own person. We can just stand by and marvel at his talent, appreciate the big wins, but expect the big losses, too. This is his temperament,” Chris Evert told ESPN.
“I don’t know how much you can teach, again, hunger and focus and commitment. I mean, you can encourage it, but until it gets into his persona, until it gets into his conscience and his heart, we’re not going to see the best of Nick Kyrgios. It’s just the way he is.”
But as the 2018 season began, the bad boy had certainly shown glimpses of better behavior. He started the year with a title in Brisbane. At the Australian Open, he fought hard till his fourth-round loss to Grigor Dimitrov.
After his injury flared up at the Davis Cup, he took some time off, playing only at the Miami Masters, a clay event in Houston, skipped Roland Garros and then made a comeback at Stuttgart for the grass season.
In Germany, he lost in the semi-finals to Roger Federer in three sets, and a week later, lost at the same stage to Marin Cilic at Queens.
The preparation, and results, was sufficient for the Australian who has started, slowly, to live up to his potential. And the effort has got the pundits rating him as a potential winner at Wimbledon this year.
“Nick to me is the most talented tennis player of the last 10 years I’ve seen, since Djokovic, Murray, Nadal, Federer,” said John McEnroe to ESPN.co.uk. “He’s an incredible talent. Certainly he’s one of the most dangerous guys. He’d be one of the six, eight guys (that could win).”
On court 12, he rained down aces at will, had a reply for everything Istomin would throw at him, and got the only break of the match to secure a spot in the second round.
“I’m just in a lot better place than I was last year,” he said.
“I came into Wimbledon last year injured, pretty bad mental state. I was out of the game for two and a half months so coming back, I’ve been excited. I’ve been winning a lot of matches, playing on grass. I guess I’m in kind of like a happy place. I feel like I’m playing well. I mean, I have a different approach. I feel like I’m one of the guys that can cause a bit of an uproar at this event. We’ll see how it goes.”
He’s made a bright start at the tournament where he first announced himself. Maybe a more serious Kyrgios can do even better this time around.
Updated Date: Jul 04, 2018 11:30:20 IST