For Nick Kyrgios, his second-round match at Wimbledon against the ‘super-salty’ Rafael Nadal — the last of the day, Centre Court, full house — with undertones similar to a boxing bout, seemed right up the Australian’s alley. Post Kyrgios’ histrionics of the last few months, there were many fearing an equally dismal show at Wimbledon where the hubris would take centre-stage as Kyrgios would fail to channel his fearsome potential into something more constructive. However, in a pleasant departure from the worrying patterns in his behaviour, Kyrgios rarely let-up when dismayed by the obviously biased judgments of the chair umpire.
In his defeat, Kyrgios may have shown the way for others who are still in the draw and are gunning to beat Nadal or the other two of the big three players around in the men’s singles. While Kyrgios’ game is naturally suited to grass with the flatter backhand zipping across the surface on cue almost, here there seemed to be a larger strategy at work.
For a proven baseliner like Nadal who flourishes when dictating play from the back of the court, Kyrgios seldom fell into that trap, calling the shots by summoning Nadal to the net with a drop shot. Nadal would do so, only to find himself trapped too close to the net with no chance of volleying Kyrgios’ heavy bottom handed returns which flattened as they went over the net.
The third set had Nadal closing in on the net as he lunged forward to push the ball past the net. Kyrgios anticipated well to see the return fall right within his arc. He swatted the ball right back at the third seed, like playing squash. Nadal could only fend that shot, staring back at Kyrgios with disdain. The Australian didn’t offer an apology even when heckled relentlessly by the partisan crowd. Evidently, there was more at play than tennis. These were mind games that Kyrgios was winning.
The Australian, searching for a weakness in his opponent, found one and went about exploiting it for a good return. He’d approach the net after forcing Nadal into a corner with his second serve. There seemed little Nadal could do here apart from watching his angled returns with the heavy topspin being volleyed with precision. When the Spaniard did manage to rush forward and make a return, Kyrgios would send him back with a lob which never went long.
The Australian reaped the rewards of that approach, until the two tiebreaks in the third and fourth set. A weak Kyrgios second serve had Nadal off the blocks quickly. A flurry of shots from the baseline falling deep within Kyrgios’ court, pushed him back, forcing a tame return. While the Australian may have lost, the score 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 suggests that it wasn’t an easy win for Nadal. This new-age rivalry of diametrically opposite personas and playing styles has lived up to its billing. Nadal has been shown to be vulnerable through a tactical play which mixes groundstrokes with drop shots. What also helped matters along was the Australian’s infallible service game which yielded zero breakpoints for Nadal for the duration of the third and fourth sets.
It then paves the way for others to ape Kyrgios’ approach, or find their own which manipulates Nadal’s obvious weakness at the net, on the grass courts at least.
Kyrgios lost a well-contested second-round match against Nadal in four sets. AFP
Before the start of the match, it had seemed to most that there were few things to be taken seriously about Kyrgios’ frequent spats with the chair umpires which should be dismissed as excuses for yet another poor show. That might change, owing majorly to Kyrgios playing a good four-set match and going down battling against a proven champion in Nadal.
The point of contention came over Nadal’s slowness in serving. The chair umpire went on to clarify that the match will progress as per the tempo of the player who’s serving. Granted. The flare-up came after, when Kyrgios, ready to serve, waited grudgingly as Nadal took his time to arrange his bottles and reach his mark. Double standards admittedly when viewed in perspective, but drowned in jeers then from the crowd which deemed it verbose and not sporting.
This wasn’t the first time though when Nadal has been called out by his opponents for taking undue time between points and dictating the tempo of the match. Previously, Gael Monfils and Roger Federer have criticised Nadal for his slowness around the court. It might be unfair to generalise ‘favouritism’ for the big players on part of the match officials but for a sport which values its conventions more than its rulebook, there might be some method to be spotted in Kyrgios’ madness.
His issues with the authority on the court, the chair umpire who levitates above all, are a matter of academic interest for they might be indicating a larger malaise in men’s tennis. The rules at Grand Slams mandate 25 seconds between points. That time code violations are frequent on the tour is known to most. However, that the most frequent and unabashed violators of that code have been, Nadal, Djokovic and until a few years back, Andy Murray before his injury-induced absence, and this is something which needs to be questioned.
What further prompts the reasoning that men’s tennis has grown unfair and is stuck in a rut is the lack of uniformity when applying code violations. The chair umpire turns a blind eye to Nadal’s slowness between points. When Kyrgios points to the obvious in his ‘not polished’ language, he’s fined for a behavioural code violation and warned for misconduct.
When Nadal was asked about what transpired on the court in the post-match presser, he refrained from answering, as he’s done for so long. Uniform applicability of the code of conduct would be just the most ‘gentlemanly’ convention that men’s tennis could benefit from in these times.
Updated Date: Jul 08, 2019 15:02:16 IST