The Centre Court was treated to a show of great tennis and more histrionics from Nick Kyrgios in his second round match against Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon 2019 – the Australian going down in four sets ultimately to the tournament third seed 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6.
The result was not a shock – and the game itself will not go down in the annals of Wimbledon history – but the antics during the game of Kyrgios will long be remembered – as will his outspoken, if brutally honest, comments afterwards.
There has been history between the two – Kyrgios had labelled Nadal ‘super salty’ and only praiseworthy of opponents when he (Nadal) beats them. So when the draw for Wimbledon 2019 was made and threw the two together in a second round clash, it was always likely to be a fiery affair.
It didn’t disappoint. Kyrgios, once again, infuriated and rattled Nadal with his use of the under arm serves, before turning his frustrations again on the match umpire, labelling him a ‘disgrace’ and having a ‘power trip’, when Nadal, on several occasions stopped the serve of Kyrgios to get himself settled. Kyrgios asked the umpire to intervene, claiming the rules stated the receiver needed to fit the server’s routine – not the other way around. The umpire refused to talk to Nadal which prompted the Kyrgios outburst – which lead to a warning.
Then, in the third set, came the real flashpoint. Nadal approached the net when making a shot, to which Kyrgios appeared to – and later happily admitted – hit straight at Nadal. intending to hit him. Nadal defended the strike but lost the point, and then gave Kyrgios an ‘icy stare’ – Kyrgios totally dismissive of the look.
At the end of the game, after Nadal finally prevailed, the handshakes were cordial enough – but the post match interview with Kyrgios left no doubt that the bitter blood between the two was still bubbling away.
When asked if he meant to hit Nadal with *that* shot, Kyrgios replied : “Yeah, I was going for him. Yeah, I wanted to hit him square in the chest. Like, he’s got decent hands.”
Kyrgios was then asked why he didn’t apologise for it. He replied : “I didn’t hit him. Hit his racquet, no? Why would I apologise? I won the point. I don’t care. Why would I apologise? I mean, the dude has got how many slams, how much money in the bank account? I think he can take a ball to the chest, bro. I’m not going to apologise to him at all.”
On the umpire, Kyrgios again did not hold back with his brutal assessment : “The umpire today was horrendous. I mean, he was terrible. The rule is like play to the speed of the server. Why do I have to wait for Rafa to get into his rhythm every time? I thought the way he handled the match was just bad.”
All that aside, Kyrgios was equally honest and to the point about his own game, saying he is not yet good enough to compete for Grand Slams : “I know what I’m capable of. Just depends. I’m a great tennis player, but I don’t do the other stuff. I’m not the most professional guy. I won’t train day in, day out. I won’t show up every day. So there’s a lot of things I need to improve on to get to that level that Rafa brings, Novak, Roger have been doing for so long. Just depends how bad I want it.”
Much like John McEnroe, though nowhere near his level, Kyrgios is a polarising player. Generally disliked, but his controversial and unique ways make him box office to watch, and he fast approaches the corps of sportsmen (and women) known for being flawed geniuses. His talent is undoubted – his attitude and aptitude though is. Especially if he does want to reach the levels that McEnroe before him, and his arch-rival Nadal, have achieved with or without the histrionics and adulation of the crowd.