Wimbledon 2014: A star is born, as teenager Nick Kyrgios pummels Rafael Nadal
Wimbledon 2014: Nick Kyrgios, 19, causes a huge upset as he beats world No1 Rafael Nadal to reach the quarter-finals
There has been no doubting that the promise was there.
This 19-year-old, long and lean, 6ft 4in, striking young man, Australian by birth but with a Greek father and Malaysian mother, caught the eye when he won two junior doubles Grand Slam titles in 2012.
By the start of 2013, he was the No1 ranked junior as he advanced to the junior title at the Australian Open.
And despite starting 2013 at 838 in the senior rankings, he took advantage of his first wild card into a Grand Slam at the French Open by beating Radek Stepanek in straight sets: his first senior tour win. With some good runs in Futures and Challengers, he was already up to 213, qualified for the US Open, and broke into the top 200 by the end of the year.
He won his second Grand Slam match over Benjamin Becker as a wild card at this year’s Australian Open, but at the French Open, he faced and lost to Milos Raonic in the first round… but that would become a significant contest.
With the switch to grass, he won his third Challenger event of the season in Nottingham but even that could not have prepared the world of tennis for what was around the corner.
With a wild card for Wimbledon, he set about a long and arduous route through the rounds, making new strides at every turn.
He was doing more than catch the eye: He was winning big and promising more. The youngest player in the main draw, he saved nine match points to beat No13 seed Richard Gasquet, 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5, 10-8, in the second round, in 3hrs 53mins.
Then he took on another of the huge, big-hitting rising stars of the tour, Jiri Vesely, ranked 68 and just 20-years-old. He had beaten Gael Monfils in similarly gritty style, but Kyrgios took him out in four sets.
But then he faced what looked like the impossible, the world No1 Rafael Nadal. What’s more he played on Centre Court for the first time—but cometh the hour, cometh the man.
He looked fearless, happy even, as he embarked on taking the first set in a tie-breaker. But Nadal had, in fact, lost the first set to each of his first three opponents, and he had hit back in impressive style to win in four each time.
You’ve got to believe you can win the match from the start and I did
Sure enough, Nadal secured the only break of the second set to level at 7-5, but in truth, both were hitting far more winners than errors and missing very few points on their first serves. It showed that Nadal could not afford to ease off for a moment unless the teenager’s nerve, energy level or form dropped a fraction.
They did not. The Centre Court crowd could hardly believe what they were watching. The best that Nadal could muster was simply not good enough, and Kyrgios—playing fearless, free-hitting tennis—edged the third-set tie-break, 7-5, though the two men scored just the same number of points.
But now Wimbledon saw a rare sight indeed: A Nadal who seemed to have run out not just of winning shots but of ideas against the fire-power and variety of the Australian. It required only one break point from Kyrgios, in the fourth game, to seal the match. His 3-1 lead extended to 6-3 in a blistering 30-minute fourth set in a pace that was set by this remarkably mature young man rather than by the experienced 14-time Grand Slam champion.
It made Kyrgios the first player to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals on his debut since Florian Mayer in 2004, and the first player outside the top 100 to beat the world No1 since Andrei Olhovsky defeated Jim Courier at Roland Garros in 1996. He is also the first teenager to defeat a world No1 since Nadal himself beat Roger Federer at Roland Garros in 2005.
With something approaching understatement, he said afterwards: “I think I was in a bit of a zone out there. It hasn’t sunk in what just played out out there. I played extraordinary tennis. I was struggling a bit on return, but I worked my way into it. I served at a really good level and I’m really happy.
“You’ve got to believe you can win the match from the start and I did.”
But he also made a whole new tennis audience believe it as well, and thrilled them both the range of his tennis but also the size of his personality. What did he do to celebrate his victory on Centre Court? A dance—and he left court to a standing ovation.
And for one more mark of the impact of this exciting player, the voluble John McEnroe, when asked for his assessment, was rendered speechless.
And so back to that match against Raonic at Roland Garros, for it is he who next faces Kyrgios.
The even taller world No9 Raonic marked Canada in some style by reaching his second Grand Slam quarter-final in a row over the hugely talented Kei Nishikori, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(4), 6-3.
The 23-year-old Canadian who, step by steady step, has marched and served his way up the rankings, took a big stride again in beating Nishikori for the first time in three attempts.
He had not been broken in his first three matches, facing only one break point, but Nishkori broke in the first game en route to taking the opener. However, Raonic fought back to claim victory in two hours and 27 minutes, firing 35 aces and only facing one more break point in the contest.
As a footnote, Raonic hit 27 aces in beating Kyrgios at Roland Garros to four from the Australian. But Kyrgios hit 37 to beat Nadal: He really is coming on in leaps and bounds.
And so the bottom half of the Wimbledon draw will throw the experience and maturity of a Grand Slam champion in the shape of either Roger Federer or Stan Wawrinka, into the line of fire of one of the new breed of young guns, Raonic or Kyrgios. And it’s anyone’s guess who will be the last man standing.