No respect for big names. Underarm serves. Nick Kyrgios is the man who’s shaking up tennis

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Nick Kyrgios is sitting in the bowels of the Miami Dolphins stadium and beaming after the reaction to his latest victory — from the courtside security personnel.

‘Afterwards I had about five of the guards who don’t care much for the game tell me how much fun that was to watch,’ he says. ‘That’s super important because this is the entertainment business.’

The 23-year-old Australian had just gone through to the third round of the Miami Open with a win over qualifier Alexander Bublik that had an element of the Harlem Globetrotters about it. The bumper attendance on the secondary arena at Hard Rock Stadium was bigger than that watching Serena Williams concurrently make her debut on the giant main court.  

He has an outstanding career record against Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic

He has an outstanding career record against Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic

There was his usual mix of scorching winners, gossamer-touch drop shots, careless mistakes, drives from between the legs and that strange reluctance to chase down every single ball. He has a curious ability to excite a crowd while displaying a certain indifference.

This is perhaps why he can to lose to anyone – sometimes in dismal fashion – while enjoying an outstanding aggregate 6-6 record against the sainted trio of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. He is 2-0 against the latter.

Kyrgios talks like he plays tennis: fast, unpredictable and not afraid to display a wide repertoire of shots. This is particularly the case when assessing how he has managed to compile his enviable stats against the big three.

Kyrgios talks like he plays tennis: fast, unpredictable and displaying a wide repertoire of shots

HIGHS AND LOWS

THE GOOD 

June 2014 Nick Kyrgios announces himself to the tennis world by knocking world No 1 Rafa Nadal out of Wimbledon. May 2015 – Comes from a set down to beat Roger Federer 14-12 in a final-set tiebreak in Madrid. February-March 2017 Beats Novak Djokovic twice in straight sets in Acapulco and Indian Wells. February 2019 – Back in Acapulco hits an underarm serve on the way to another win over Nadal, then beats Alex Zverev in the final.

THE BAD

Aug 2015 Hurled a barrage of salacious insults at Stan Wawrinka. Given a suspended six-month sentence. Oct 2016 Verbally abused a spectator during a 48-minute defeat by Mischa Zverev in Shanghai. He said: ‘I don’t owe the fans anything. If they don’t like it, just leave.’ Jun 2018 Fined £13,000 for obscene gestures with a water bottle at Queens.

‘I just go out there and do my thing and nothing changes whether I’m playing Alexander Bublik or Federer or Rafa,’ he says.’ I serve big, I back myself, at the end of the day they are only human.

‘They don’t do anything spectacularly well. Obviously Federer is unbelievably talented and the greatest of all time, but he gets tired in tight situations. Djokovic struggles with short balls, he doesn’t like to come forward. Second serve can get a bit shaky.

‘Rafa loves to be defensive so you can really push through his forehand and expose how far back he stands. So they do have weaknesses and if you play the right way and execute it right under pressure then they can be beaten.

‘You just have to play the right way and for the stars to align. Of course they are a level above all of us, but they are definitely beatable, I don’t think like they are Gods to the sport.’

Late last month Kyrgios went out and beat Nadal amid a febrile atmosphere at the ATP Tour event in Acapulco. On the way he served underarm, infuriating the great Spaniard, who afterwards declared that his opponent lacked respect for both his opponents and himself.

Kyrgios plays around behind the clock during his match against Alexander Bublik in Miami

Kyrgios plays around behind the clock during his match against Alexander Bublik in Miami

Unlike too many of the present day younger ATP players, you will not find Kyrgios coming off court to describe it as an ‘honour’ to share the court with them.

‘I don’t know how much respect the others show them but I’m not going to really respect someone just because they can hit a ball over the net, that’s not enough for me to give them respect,’ said Kyrgios, who today plays Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic.

‘Why would I give them an inch? They’ve already got the advantage with always playing on the best courts in the best conditions, all that sort of stuff, so I don’t know why you would give them inches.’

‘Obviously what they (the trio) do for the sport is huge, they inspire millions around the globe. But when I’m on the court we are competing and I’m not trying to be your friend.

‘I’m not sure why I would go out there and be very respectful of Rafa to get ready for me to serve. ‘

Kyrgios throws his racquet during his match against Philipp Kohlschreiber at Indian Wells

Kyrgios throws his racquet during his match against Philipp Kohlschreiber at Indian Wells

It is perhaps telling that Kyrgios’s peak this year came when winning the ATP title in the Mexican playground, where there were evidently plenty of distractions away from the grind of the tennis.

‘Acapulco was insane on and off the court, I definitely lost a couple of years off my life that week. I was going jetskiing every day, I had a my best friend there, it was like a holiday week, that’s when I tend to play well. One of the best atmospheres ever.

‘I hit it (the underarm serve) and people say ‘he’s being disrespectful’, but when other people do it they’d be saying ‘very technically switched on’. When I did it, it’s like the roof is falling in. I’m never going to hit one again because I got scorched for it… I’m kidding – I’m hitting it again for sure, I was thinking about it all day today.

‘At times I think tennis is way too serious. I don’t think about goalsetting. There’s so much going on in the world that we are so sheltered from, I’m not trying to put my attention into tennis too much, I come in and play my match at somewhere like this and I’m out of here.’

Kyrgios has long established a bond with Andy Murray, who he believes is one of the people who ‘gets’ him. The two have stayed in touch while Murray continues his convalescence.

Kyrgios went out and beat Rafael Nadal on way to winning the Acapulco Open in Mexico

Kyrgios went out and beat Rafael Nadal on way to winning the Acapulco Open in Mexico

‘I had a hit the other day with Amanda Anisimova (the exciting American prospect) at 9am the other day, I never hit that early. Andy in Brisbane this year asked me if I wanted to hit at 9am and I said that’s way too early. He messaged me the other day when he saw that I’d hit with her, adding a sad face.

‘So I have been in contact with him a little bit, he is obviously a great guy and I wish him all the best. If he can come back and play I don’t even care if he wins a match, I just want to see him back on the tour and competing. The results aren’t something to be concerned about it would be just to see him happy. If he’s able to play again that’s a success. I think he is someone I will keep in contact with when I have finished playing for sure.’

In his darker moments Kyrgios does not always help himself, putting in halfhearted efforts or descending to puerile antics like making suggestive gestures with water bottles, as he did last summer at Queen’s.

But the ongoing debate among some earnest types about whether he is ‘good for the game’ is tennis’s most inane debate – of course he is, for all the undulating behaviour.

The Harlem Globetrotters analogy is a fitting one, because he makes no secret that what he would much rather be doing is shooting hoops.

Last week he could be found dispensing wisdom to a group of eleven year-old schoolchidren as part of a Unicef charity appearance prior to the tournament.

After advising them that it was important to always listen to their parents, he also added a note of regret.

‘When I was 14, my parents told me I could no longer play basketball and still to this day it breaks my heart. It was one of the toughest challenges to give that up. I love basketball.’ 

 



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