WIMBLEDON, England—Wearing a backward cap with the brim bent skyward, Nick Kyrgios hit a between-the-legs shot while warming up for the Wimbledon final against Novak Djokovic.
Kyrgios was just getting started. Once play began, he tried an underarm serve. He conjured up a pair on-the-run, back-to-the-net ‘tweeners on consecutive points, one a passing shot, one a lob. And for one full set Sunday, in the biggest match of his life, on one of the most famous courts in the world, at as prestigious tournament as there is, against one of the greatest players in tennis history, Kyrgios played brilliantly.
Oh, did he ever: Seven aces, 14 winners, just four unforced errors. Completely composed. No distractions. Talk about meeting the moment.
“I felt,” Kyrgios would say later, “like I belonged, to be honest.”
For a set, anyway. Then, as so often happens, he allowed little things to bother him. He let his opponent gain the upper hand. He began berating himself. And so, ultimately, Kyrgios saw his early lead vanish in what would become a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3) loss to Djokovic at the All England Club.
This was the 32nd Grand Slam final for the top-seeded Djokovic—he’s won 21 such titles, including seven at Wimbledon—and the first for the unseeded Kyrgios.
“You cannot prepare (for a) match against Nick Kyrgios,” said Djokovic’s coach, 2001 Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic. “Nick Kyrgios is a genius, tennis genius.”
The 27-year-old Australian is ranked 40th and hadn’t even been to a major quarterfinal in seven-and-a-half years. Hasn’t won a tour-level title since 2019. But he did not perform that way at the start.
“I felt like the trophy was definitely attainable today,” said Kyrgios, who pounded 30 aces.
He generates as much—OK, let’s be honest, more — attention for his attitude and behavior, on and off the court, as he does for his considerable talent.
Most seriously, word came during Wimbledon that Kyrgios is supposed to be in court back home in Australia next month to face an assault allegation.
He spat in the direction of a heckling spectator during one match this fortnight. He got in trouble for cursing during another—and again on Sunday.
Once his advantage on the scoreboard began to dwindle, and after he lost one return game after being up love-40, and one service game after being up 40-love Kyrgios began talking to the people in his guest box, which included his father and his girlfriend ( but no coach, because he doesn’t have one ). He would yell in that direction. Or motion dismissively. He threw a water bottle.
The chair umpire heard a lot from Kyrgios, too, such as a complaint that a woman he thought had been drinking was talking to him during the match.
“I mean, look, I’ve been on a couple nights out in my life,” Kyrgios said at his news conference, “and I knew that she had too many.”
There were those who have wondered during his career whether Kyrgios would ever be able to harness his tremendous skills and make it to the final weekend of a major tournament. The ability has long been there; that’s why he was 2-0 against Djokovic before Sunday, and also has victories over Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
“Everything is starting to come together for you,” Djokovic told Kyrgios during the trophy ceremony at Centre Court.
“It’s tough to find consolation words after a tough loss like this, but you showed why you deserve to be one of the best players in the world, particularly on this surface,” Djokovic said. “I wish you all the best. I really respect you a lot.”
Kyrgios said he found the past two weeks stressful. The attention—and comments—on social media. And since learning he would be participating in a Grand Slam final after Nadal withdrew Thursday from the semifinals with an abdominal injury, Kyrgios couldn’t sleep at night.
He said about one-and-a-half months ago, he was playing basketball with some pals in Australia and told one of them: “Look, I think I’m going to have some fun and maybe win Wimbledon.”
Came so close.
“I look back at it,” Kyrgios said, “and I’m just like, ‘How am I here?’”
Image credits: AP