Nick Kyrgios needs serve of steel to edge Djokovic for Wimbledon crown

Nick Kyrgios needs serve of steel to edge Djokovic for Wimbledon crown

It has been seven long years since a 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios reached the second of his two career grand slam quarter-finals up to that point. Between his big wins over big players and the controversy he courts everywhere he goes, his public profile has only grown in the years since but his notoriety did not correlate with greater success on the court.

This year, though, the Australian has turned a corner. He arrived at Wimbledon playing the best, most consistent tennis of his career and has used it to blaze a trail into his first grand slam final.

As he soaked up the achievement on Friday after Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal, Kyrgios cited his Australian Open doubles triumph alongside Thanasi Kokkinakis as a pivotal moment in his development, teaching him the importance of remaining focused on days off and correctly executing mundane chores in his free time.

Even though he was a top junior, he never imagined he would make it to a grand slam final: “I feel like it’s the pinnacle of tennis. Once you are able to raise a grand slam trophy, I mean, what else is there to achieve? So I never thought I’d be here,” he said.

Alongside Kyrgios’s success has been some sobering, disturbing news. A day after his fourth-round win, the Canberra police confirmed he had been summonsed to court for a charge of assault against his former girlfriend, Chiara Passari, following an alleged incident in December 2021.

After his quarter-final win over Cristian Garín, Kyrgios declined to address the court summons, citing legal advice. He is scheduled in court on 2 August. It will hang over him until there is a resolution.

In the final, Kyrgios will reacquaint himself with Novak Djokovic, who he has had a turbulent relationship with. In a 2019 interview with the No Challenges Remaining podcast, Kyrgios unloaded on Djokovic, claiming he was obsessed with being liked. It was a one-sided dispute, with Djokovic never criticising Kyrgios publicly and he was confused by Kyrgios’s public hostility given their previous amicable encounters.

But in January, Kyrgios supported Djokovic when he was detained and then deported from Australia. While Kyrgios joked they now have a “bit of a bromance”, Djokovic was less enthusiastic, but he expressed his appreciation for Kyrgios’s support: “When it was really tough for me in Australia, he was one of the very few players that came out publicly and supported me and stood by me. That’s something I truly appreciate. So I respect him for that a lot.”

One of the curious aspects of this match is that Kyrgios leads the head-to-head 2-0, winning the encounters in two tight sets early in 2017. After his semi-final win on Friday, Djokovic openly joked about his losing record to Kyrgios. He is surely comforted that 2017 was a nadir, which started with him losing in the second round of the Australian Open and ended in missing the second half of the year with a major elbow injury.

Against one of the best returners the sport has seen, one of the key points in the final is whether Kyrgios can serve well enough over best-of-five sets to shut Djokovic out of his service games and replicate the suffocating pressure he puts on opponents to hold. That they have not faced each other in five years and never practise together is another asset for Kyrgios, meaning Djokovic will have to familiarise himself with Kyrgios’s serve again.

Despite his reputation as a big-match player, Kyrgios’s third-round win over Stefanos Tsitsipas was his first over a top-10 player at a grand slam since he beat Milos Raonic here in 2015. Kyrgios is 3-14 against top 10 players at slams but 22-21 elsewhere. He has often picked off the greats in lower-stakes ATP matches. This time, so much will also be on the line for him and it will be interesting to see if he can manage his nerves and play with the same boundless freedom.

For Djokovic, who has 20 grand slam titles and trails Nadal’s 22 by two, the stakes are even higher than usual. This is his first grand slam final since he left Australia and he is unable to play the US Open because he is unvaccinated against Covid.

Australian visitors normally cannot apply for a visa for three years after being deported. As things stand, the next grand slam that he can enter is the French Open in 2023. It would not hurt for him to win this one.

ufologinet