Complaints about the length of the grass, heated rants, amusing fan exchanges, a 43-second game with three huge aces, tweeners, post-match quips. It’s good to have you back Nick Kyrgios. It really is.
Kyrgios has been almost absent from the tour since Covid-19 hit - the last time he was seen around these parts he was visiting the Dog and Fox pub the night before his Centre Court clash with Rafael Nadal in 2019. He hasn’t played a grass match since, but on his return to Wimbledon he shocked 21st seed – and Halle Open champion - Ugo Humbert 6-4 4-6 3-6 6-1 9-7 in a thrilling contest. It was an incredible performance from Kyrgios, whose claim before his first-round match that he could still beat 50 per cent of players on tour raised a few eyebrows, but probably is the truth. It was like he had never been away.
“Nick could roll out of bed with no warm up and I'd still back him to close out a set or match on serve... a wonderful closer,” observed Simona Halep’s coach Darren Cahill on Twitter while watching the match.
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Kyrgios said a few years ago that his game is “kind of like a tap…I can turn it on when I want to”, and he didn’t seem too rusty despite having played very little tennis in the last 18 months. His serve was firing – with 23 aces – and his forehand hitting booming winners into all parts of the court. He also brought out a few drop shots and tweeners to entertain the Court One crowd.
Further entertainment came from an exchange with a fan – “serve down the T Nick”, serve down the T follows, Kyrgios points at fan in celebration after winning the point – and also grumblings about the speed of the court during a changeover. “Guys for you watching at home, it should be fast in here. It's turf. It should be fast. That's grass court tennis. They've made it slow. This isn't grass anymore. This is slow. It's a joke. Stop cutting it so short man. It's so short isn't it? Start watering it too. Make it a grass court again. Make it a grass court again will you please? Thanks. This isn't grass anymore bruv.”
Kyrgios has played just 15 matches in the last 18 months, all but one of which were in Australia. Prior to his first-round win over Humbert, he hadn’t played outside of his home country since February 2019, when he was booed off court in Acapulco after retiring during a match against Humbert. In his time away from the court he has been spending time at home in Canberra, shooting hoops at an NBA promotional event in Sydney, live streaming himself playing Call Of Duty Warzone, and securing a spot on Australian Ninja Warrior.
“Not bad for a part-time player," he said with a smile after his win over Humbert.
Kyrgios, who is also playing mixed doubles with Venus Williams at Wimbledon, said he has been “happy without tennis” and hasn’t been “looking at any results” during his time away. But followed that up with: “I just feel like I've got a little bit left to give to the game.”
How much more is the burning question.
On his day, Kyrgios has the game to beat anyone. He’s won both his meetings with Novak Djokovic, has won three of eight against Rafael Nadal, and has favourable head-to-head records against Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev. The issue has always been consistency and putting it all together for two weeks of a Grand Slam, or even a week of a regular ATP tournament. He’s only twice made the quarter-finals of a major and the last time was at the Australian Open in 2015. A player with Kyrgios’ talents should have achieved more on the biggest stages.
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But is that still to come? Kyrgios is still only 26, and might there be a part of him that thinks that he could step up and win Grand Slams once Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are out of the way?
Even if winning majors is not on his mind, there’s still an opportunity to be an even bigger part of the tennis landscape that is soon set to see some of its top names sail off into retirement. Take Federer, Nadal and Djokovic out and there aren’t many bigger box-office players than Kyrgios.
But in the current climate it’s unclear what the immediate future holds for him. Even after so long away from the tour, life in a bubble still does not appeal.
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“That's why I didn't play most of the year. I know that, Nick, are you going to be in a good mental space over this year to go week in, week out in the bubble environment? I said ‘no’. That's why I didn't play for very long.”
He knows he doesn’t want to be in a bubble, but he also knows the fans want him back.
"I'm doing my best. So I'll continue to go out there and try and give them a show and just try and bring that different aspect of tennis. A lot of people wanted me to play because of that. I'm here, I'm trying to give you what I've got. Yesterday the crowd was thanking me. They're like, Thank you, Nick, for keeping me so entertained."
Kyrgios might not need tennis, and tennis might not need Kyrgios, but can there be any doubt that they are better together?
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