By Saqib Ali
No one has polarized professional tennis like Nick Kyrgios has for the last few seasons. But last night or early morning today was all about the tennis, no distractions or altercations. It was a serving masterclass against arguably the best returner of all time. This was a match that had been quite anticipated for some time now. Especially after Kyrgios had beaten the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Lot of times the craziness takes a back seat when the challenge across the net is considered the standard of the game. This reminded me a lot of the Safin matches against Sampras at the US open and Australian open. Kyrgios like Safin sensed the moment and came out playing his best tennis.
Nick Kyrgois had been called a box office draw for some time now. This performance will not undo the damage his image has rightfully or wrongfully generated but for once his ability and only his natural tennis talent was on total display. This win was very similar to the Federer match he won in Madrid 2015 in many aspects. But Novak Djokovic is clearly a superior returner than Federer, so the serve games were always going to be challenging even though Kyrgios was serving from the tree it seemed. His second serve delivery wrote a new chapter and this match will be used as golden standard of what Kyrgios can do. He admittedly was nervous coming into this match and that is a great sign to be honest if you are his fan. The nerves show the care and desire of how he wants to perform against then the best on a big stage. No matter how his career shapes from now on this is a match that the tennis world will keep in hindsight when measuring Kyrgios’s unlimited potential.
What does this mean for Novak Djokovic? Djokovic may have lost some of his aura to the tennis public but Kyrgios’s focus was a testimony to his opponent’s history of turning these kind of matches around in a flash. Djokovic in the late part of the second set was getting into few games on the Kyrgios serve and even won some baseline exchanges to create that doubt that the service break is around the corner. Of course Djokovic is short on confidence and there is no substitute in sport for that trait as he is the same player who would find a way to win this match a year ago. This should make us appreciate even more what Djokovic achieved while he was dominating the circuit. The single minded pursuit of dominating point by point brought him the results. And with those results comes the confidence. His tennis was good at many levels this week, but may need some more cleaning up to do. But today is about the mercurial Aussie and he answered the call emphatically.
Does this change the landscape of the men’s game? Most definitely not as Kyrgios has to back his win by stamping his intention of winning this title. He has to show up for every match and reduce the showmanship on his shot selection. But it somehow gives us a glimpse of a player who can take the racquet out of the hands of legends like Federer and Djokovic. It certainly makes you wonder how the narrative would be if Kyrgios can put together a season which is reminiscent of his focus last night. He very well could lose his next match to Querrey today. Kyrgios has to bring the same intensity in all matches but easier said than done. This discipline and mindset has separated the Djokovic’s of the world from the Safin’s. But I have signed up for this ride even though it comes with a disclaimer that it will be bumpy more often than not. Will you?