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By Alix Ramsay
Life’s a beach, particularly if you are Rafa Nadal and particularly if you have just been wiped off the Centre Court by a 19-year-old wildcard from Australia, a novice with a world ranking of 144.
“Congratulations to him,” Nadal said with a shrug. “For me, beach. For me, I going to go to the beach in Mallorca.”
At least on the beach by his home town, he would be safe from the ferocious serve of Nick Kyrgios; he would be protected from the scything backhand of the big lad from Canberra and he would not have to deal with the over-exuberance, the fearless belief and the sheer chutzpah of youth that had ended his challenge for another Wimbledon title. For a couple of minutes under three hours, Kyrgios had been magnificent: bold, aggressive, nerveless and utterly focused on the job in hand. And as that clock ticked towards the three hour mark, he welted down his 37th ace and beat the mighty Rafa 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-3.
A couple of weeks ago, Wimbledon was handing out wildcards like Smarties (or M&Ms for those from the other side of the pond). The minor Brits collect them in hatfuls, fall at the first hurdle and go home a good deal richer but none the wiser. But Kyrgios earned his wildcard – the All England Club reserve a few of the golden tickets for foreigners and old or injured champions – and so dodged the dreaded qualifying competition. He won the Nottingham Challenger (for which he did have to qualify) and beat fellow Aussie, Sam Groth, in the final. That earned him his ticket to the main draw in SW19 and he has not looked back since.
Even so, for one so young, so wet behind the ears, to beat the world No.1 on the biggest court in the sport and do it with such power, such skill and such pleasure (he looked like he loved every minute of it), was simply stunning. The ‘tweener’ he played for a winner in the second set had most of the crowd in raptures and the rest in hysterics while, for Kyrgios, it looked like the most natural shot in the world to play. After all, he was a set up and life was looking good.
Throughout The Championships this year, Rafa had been a slow starter. He had dropped the opening set against his previous three opponents but had found a way to come back. Against Mikhail Kukushkin in the previous round, he had taken a bathroom break after the first set and taken some fresh clothes with him. Returning moments later – and now swathed in his superhero cloak of invincibility – he had romped into the fourth round for the loss of just three more games. But when he tried the same trick against Kyrgios, he found that the Australian had secret stores of Kryptonite in his racquet bag. Rafa’s powers were nullified.
Sure enough, the former champion took the second set. He flung everything he could think of at his young rival but still Kyrgios would not go away. And then, in the last game of the set, Rafa broke that fearsome serve. Hah! The game was on.
At this point, everyone feared for poor Kyrgios. Surely now, the wind would go out of his sails and he would begin to realise just who he was trying to beat and on what stage he was trying to do it. And for fully one game, Kyrgios looked downcast: Rafa’s opening service game of the third set. And then he came back. Oh, boy did he come back.
Raf may be a gentleman both off the court and on it but he does know how to bend the rules to his liking. He could remember what it was like to be a teenage sensation, stuffed full of confidence and riding a wave of adrenaline as he took on an experienced champion. And now, as that experienced champion, he knew just how to make Kyrgios sweat.
So, as the young and eager lad waited to serve, Raf faffed and fiddled at the back of the court. He handed out his towels to the ball kids, he wiped the sweat from his nose, his ears and his forehead and he made his way to the baseline. And as soon as he had placed his feet in the appointed position, Kyrgios whacked an unreturnable serve at him. And then another. Raf would be playing to the server’s tempo from now on.
When the third set tiebreak went the way of the first, Rafa knew how this would end. When he was broken for 3-1, it was game over. He could not touch Kyrgios’s serve and, on the other side of the net, the young bloke was showing not a hint of excitement or fear or tension. He was just playing the match of his life – and winning it in style.
But if anyone should think there will be a let-down from this, they are sorely mistaken. Kyrgios has been achieving the unthinkable since he arrived in SW19. In the second round, he saved nine match points before beating Richard Gasquet. Beating Coeur de Pois (that’s Franglais for Pea Heart) is nothing compared to beating Rafa but, at the time, it was still a huge win for our new superstar. He came from two sets down, saved those match points and won 10-8 in the fifth. Then, he backed it up by beating Jiri Vesely, one of his peers and the world No.68 and he did it in four sets out on Court 17. There was no let-down that day. He is playing like a seasoned campaigner and that will put the wind up Milos Raonic, the Canadian who has flattered to deceive for the past couple of years. They meet on Court One on Wednesday.
“I’m pretty happy,” Kyrgios said, stating the obvious. “That’s the biggest win of my career and that’s something I’m never going to forget. I’m going to draw so much confidence out of that no matter where I play now. To have that under my belt, it’s massive.
“I’m just going to stay grounded. I’m just going to go home tonight and do everything possible for my next round tomorrow. Milos has probably got the best serve in the world. I’m just going to go out there and have fun again.”
Kyrgios is a nice lad, he is a big lad and he has a huge future of him if he can keep this up. Australia has a keeper in Nick Kyrgios.