No matter where you stand on Nick Kyrgios, it’s impossible to not feel just about everything when watching him. And his run to the quarters (so far) at Wimbledon has been perhaps the most shining example of that in his career. The fact that he’s doing all this before he possibly heads off to prison only makes it all the more inflamed.
You cannot help but be infuriated. It can be the fact that talent-wise, he very well may be on the same level as the game’s greats like Djokovic and Nadal and Federer. Application-wise, he’s somewhere around Barney Gumble most of the time. You can see him pull off the most insane and gifted shots with his incredible hands, and then the very next point just watch him completely jake it. He can tickle the opposite side of the net with most delicate drop shot from anywhere on the court, and treat it like nothing as he gives up the next point with criminal nonchalance.
He can also infuriate you with his personality. Rarely does a Kyrgios match go by that he isn’t constantly barking at some linesperson, chair umpire, his box, or fan and not just for a game or two. The conversation, almost always one way, goes on for an hour or more. It’s almost as if he’s got a bet with himself to see how long he can keep yammering at anyone and everything until he gets thrown off the court. It’s part of his checking out mentally at times, sometimes used to actually motivate himself, and almost all of the time to entertain himself.
Simultaneously, you can’t help but be blown away by the sheer show of it all, whether he’s actually dazzling with his play or simply blowing up. It’s almost always a four-star theatrical piece, however you interpret it.
It was all on display in Saturday’s third round win over Stefanos Tsitsipas, himself no stranger to confounding fans and opponents alike with his galaxy-brained, trust fund hippie attitude to the world at large and his occasional trips to Narnia disguised as bathroom breaks to halt an opponent’s rhythm.
Before getting into the silliness of it all, it should be said that Kyrgios’s tennis on the day was mostly sublime, the kind of match everyone has wondered why he doesn’t play every time out and are exasperated, the answer is simply because he can’t be bothered to. Kyrgios’s serve was impenetrable, and he whacked forehands to every angle and spot while showing a sculptor’s touch on his drop shots or at the net. There isn’t anything Kyrgrios can’t do when he’s in the same zip code as his attention span.
Of course, that’s not what had the match catching everyone’s eye, at least not on its own. Kyrgios got Tsitsipas’s ire up with a couple underhanded serves, one of the third-rails of what is proper and right in tennis. Some see it as a genuine strategy, some see it as disrespectful or unsporting. The latter opinion would seem to be utter horseshit, as Tsitsipas is one of many who like to stand somewhere near the pub against big servers like Kyrgios. So why wouldn’t you take advantage and make him question where exactly to stand and make your normal serve even more lethal in the confusion? Of course, with Kyrgios everything has its own context, and when he does it it’s seen as him not taking the match or sport seriously. We’ll leave you to decide. Combined with Kyrgios talking to himself even during Tsitsipas’s serve and his blistering pace of play, and he certainly had the Greek on edge before the underhand serves.
Wherever your final judgment lands, it sent Tsitsipas into orbit, and he fired a ball into the stands. Which Kyrgios spent the next hour pointing out to anyone who would listen that if he’d done that, they would have DJ Jazzy Jeff’d him right out of the whole tournament. Which isn’t necessarily wrong. The constant jabbering only infuriated Tsitsipas more, and he spent more than one game more concerned with labeling Kyrgios’s forehead with a ball than trying to win.
Which is probably exactly what Kygrios wanted, as he certainly hasn’t been above enjoying getting an opponent off his game and more worried about settling scores than hitting winners. Tsitsipas would spend his post-match presser bemoaning Kyrgios’s “bullying,” but as the Australian pointed out, it was the Greek who was trying to hit balls into his teeth. Certainly Tsitsipas hasn’t been above trying to fuck with opponents’ heads in the past either.
It made for excellent television, whatever side of the ocean you were on. The BBC coverage apparently had so much pearl-clutching they nearly asphyxiated, and the hypocrisy of both the McEnroe brothers on ESPN complaining about Kyrgios’s constant bitching and antics to the chair was so delicious it would have caused diabetes.
Kyrgios was fined for an audible cuss word, which leads to the question of which one did they pick. It followed his fine earlier in the tourney for spitting at a fan. Seemingly chastened, or more likely simply to make himself giggle and confuse everyone else, Kyrgios was downright placid yesterday in his fourth-round match against young American Brandon Nakishima. It still contained some goofiness, because of course it did, as Kyrgios openly chucked the last game of the fourth set on his serve to get to the fifth. Most players would chuck a return game to start the deciding set on their racket, but Kyrgios has never been concerned with convention. As he simply sprinted away from Nakashima in the fifth, it hardly mattered.
However, with Kyrgios’s court date in Australia for assault now hanging over all of it, the element of fun and thumbing the nose at the bluebeards of tennis zaps away. Kyrgios and the ex accusing him, Chiara Passari, had the police called on them before during a volcanic argument last October. What the ATP will think of it is another matter, as this is a step farther than the accusations leveled against Alexander Zverev by his ex, which never came with actual charges and court appearances. The ATP was only too happy to do nothing and using that as cover, to the fury of more than a few players, but they’ll also feel Kyrgios is a much easier target whatever the outcome of the trial.
At least before the news of the charge, watching tennis grapple with a suddenly interested yet still confounding Kyrgios made for one of the more entertaining Wimbledons in recent memory. Kyrgios will be heavily favored in his quarterfinal Christian Garin tomorrow, possibly setting up a semifinal with Rafael Nadal, who pretty much hates Kyrgios’s guts. He certainly had people watching and talking, as he didn’t hesitate to point out to those who said he’s bad for tennis. But now, that joy is certainly on hold, if not completely gone.