By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Wimbledon had the feel of a small mid-western town sweeping up and fixing the shutters on Friday after tennis’s own force of nature Nick Kyrgios had blown through, leaving a trail of admiration, amazement and some bemusement in his wake.
Britain’s BBC Radio 5 Live dedicated an hour to a phone-in discussing the pros and cons of Kyrgios, who is fast inheriting the mantle of John McEnroe in his ability to split an audience into Brexit-level extremes.
What was not in question was that his four-set defeat by third seed Rafa Nadal on Thursday was the highlight of the opening week, with the sparkling tennis on show only a part of the package.
It was always likely to have been a tense occasion given the men’s sparky relationship, and the highly unusual sight of 40 journalists queuing an hour before the match in the hope of a Centre Court seat told its own story.
There was a palpable buzz around the venue, with Henman Hill the busiest it has been all week as punters settled to watch on the big screen.
The match more than lived up to its billing and the Australian duly delivered another pitch-perfect example of the Kyrgios show. Everything was there, almost from the start. Fuming at Nadal’s glacial between-point preparations, Kyrgios began a running battle with the umpire that eventually led to him calling him a disgrace.
There were the obligatory under-arm serves, crazy drop-shots, no end of chuntering and a flashpoint when Kyrgios drove a shot straight at his net-lurking opponent, hitting his racket and drawing a fierce glare at the perceived lack of etiquette.
Amid the chaos, however, was a superb tennis match, dripping with power and quality. Mats Wilander said it was the best second-round match he had ever seen at Wimbledon, while Boris Becker said it was the most exciting one he had commentated on “for a very long time”.
Such was the force and accuracy of Kyrgios serve that Nadal, one of the game’s great returners, could not create a single break point during the last two-and-a-half sets.
The Spaniard eventually prevailed, as his ability to maintain his laser focus during the key points, brought him through successive tie-breaks.
The sated crowd rose to acclaim both men, but Kyrgios still had much more to give at his news conference, where the first thing he was asked about was his trip to a local pub the night before the match and whether he would have played better without it.
“No, and you look way too excited to ask that question,” he said. “You must have a really boring life.” Asked what he would work on in the wake of the defeat he said: “Nothing. I don’t even want to step on a tennis court,” while also part-lamenting, part-revelling in his refusal to take it all seriously.
He was short of patience with questions about the incident when he fired the ball towards Nadal and whether he should have apologised. “I didn’t hit him, it hit his racket,” he said. “Why would I apologise? I won the point?”
Pressed further, Kyrgios rolled into sarcasm, saying: “Yeah, I was going for him. I wanted to hit him square in the chest.”
So when he woke up on Friday to stories condemning him for deliberately targeting Nadal, he can maybe forgiven for his lack of love for the media.
He said that he always goes out to try to put on a show and that people who had a ticket for Thursday “probably had a great day”.
He is not quite done, yet, however, as he goes in the mixed doubles with American partner Desirae Krawczyk out on Court 18 late on Friday.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Alison Williams)