“People are here to see me, not you, mate,” Nick Kyrgios told the referee halfway through his third round win over Stefanos Tsitsipas. “Do not tell me what to do.”
As letters of intent go it was instructive. After behaving with choirboy-like restraint in the previous round, this was Australian at his most ostentatious histrionic. Full of vociferous complaints, he clucked and mumbled and stamped his feet during his 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 win. And it must be admitted, the crowd of Court No 1 loved every moment of his villainous pantomime.
This is the Kyrgios paradox: for every gobby moment of rebellion he delivers a beautiful piece of tennis, for every absurd self-aggrandizing moan he can produce a sublime winner.
Indeed, it’s hard to know where to start when describing this win: with the lengthy debate he had with officials about the consequences of hitting a ball into the crowd, or the casual destruction of his 130mph serve. Anyway, it’s hard to argue that he was the character at the center of the drama.
In the first set he started to mumble. In reality, it was a really bad phone call that made him leave. But instead of portraying it as one of those things, he stood right in the umpire. “It’s the same over and over. Every game there are mistakes. So what, you can just say sorry and it’s all good?
“On five, in the first set, of the third round of Wimbledon, he says sorry and it’s all good? Then get a new umpire. Why don’t you just get a new one? Why? He’s got one rule, bro!”
The referee wisely chose to ignore such advice. But it didn’t stop Kygrios. Either in his lament or in his play. Just after his long moan, he won a service game to love, taking each delivery at a blinding pace. And what made this such a compelling watch was that Tsitsipas himself was capable of some brilliant shots. A cross-court winner left Kyrgios flat-footed, robbed, not sure who to blame.
At first, after his long nagging, it seemed like we were about to witness another Kyrgios self-immolation. He made a double fault in the first set tiebreak, giving his opponent the advantage and the set. He then threw an uncomplicated smash into the net.
But instead of collapsing, he really opened up in the second set. And this despite receiving an official warning when a linesman complained about his language. Perhaps not as elegant in his execution as Tsitsipas, he nevertheless analyzed the corners of the court to perfection.
Sometimes he looked so lax, standing still on the baseline and tapping at the ball. But the shots he made completely belied his point of view. Smart, poised, perfectly positioned, he began to walk away. And what a winner he played to break Tsitsipas and win the second set.
He then got into an argument with the umpire because Tsitsipas reacted by hitting the ball into the crowd out of frustration. It didn’t hit anyone, but Kygrios stood straight into the official, wondering why there was no charge. He didn’t understand, he said. Citing the precedent of Novak Djokovic being eliminated for hitting a linesman at the US Open, he insisted on speaking with the match referee.
“Send me your supervisor,” he told the referee. “I’m not going to continue playing until I get to the bottom of this. I want all the accompanists.”
Forty-one years after John McEnroe’s outburst on the same court, Kyrgios was in full Macca tribute. Coincidentally, Tsitsipas was not disqualified – instead, he filed his own complaint about his opponent: “the gentleman takes up too much towel space”.
Kyrgios continued to play and almost immediately followed an ace up with an underarm serve that angrily swung his opponent into the crowd. This time Tsitsipas was admonished. Kyrgios, it was clear, had now pitched his tent in his opponent’s head.
And so it went on. Dramatic, aggressive, unyielding: this got personal, Tsitsipas once deliberately hit a volley on his opponent’s chest.
Kyrgios took the third set, but managed to come back twice when Tsitsipas had points in the fourth set. The momentum turned wild in the tiebreak, with both players producing some superb shots in their determination to win.
When Kyrgios won on his second match point, his party was deep, loud and long. He was so happy that he even shook hands with the referee. He will play Brandon Nakashima in the next round. The American would be advised to bring his earplugs.