Many years ago, I called Andy Murray the anti-Agassi. Andre’s shots were clean and rhythmic, struck with extreme accuracy. Murray hit 138 mile-per-hour first serves and junk-moonballed groundstrokes if he wanted to – in fact, whatever he wanted to. He wanted his opponent as far out of his comfort zone as possible.
Nick Kyrgios doesn’t process tennis that way. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but Kyrgios gives the impression of deciding which shot to hit nanoseconds before he actually does hit the ball. He drove Rafael Nadal nuts the first time they played at Wimbledon, and he has added other big-time scalps since then – Roger Federer once, Novak Djokovic twice.
Kyrgios has yet to win a big tournament, and I think the odds he’ll win here are tiny. He is playing this week with a strapped knee, and early in the match I wrote that Nick had a live arm and a creaky rest of his body.
But if he gets fit, and if he ever figures out the terms on which he can play fully committed for 15 matches in a row, he might yet be quite good.
Let’s skip over every game of the match except one – the final-set tiebreak. I was watching standing up in the stands and live tweeting on my phone. That’s hard to do in a Kyrgios match, because he barely takes any time at all between serves: In one service game at deuce he hit an ace, then another with the serve clock showing 20.
Nick took the lead 2-1 in the final set breaker with a ripped forehand return off a Kudla first serve, stretched the lead with a pair of T aces, and rode the minibreak to 6-3. Kudla hit a backhand pass that Kyrgios chose not to play, and the ball landed in. At 6-4, Kyrgios hit an attempted backhand pass into the net. On his third match point, an attacking mid-court backhand went wide. 6-6.
Three unreturned first serves followed, Kudla saving a fourth match point in the process. 8-7 Denis. Second serve Kyrgios: a 134-mph wide ace. All I could think of in the moment was Maximus’ “Are you not entertained??!”
We weren’t done. Two more aces took us to the third changeover, then Kudla couldn’t handle a forcing return. A big T first serve by Kyrgios sealed victory on his sixth match point.
Kudla, ranked 77, came through qualifying. He plays a fairly standard late-2010s version of ATP tennis, controlled tennis with very little hint of spice. Kyrgios is loaded with enough spice to open a few trade routes.
Playing against Nick must be a challenge like no other, maybe like facing tennis’ Nuke LaLoosh. If Kyrgios comes into press one day saying he’s taking things one game at a time, or that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains, watch out. He might have just figured it out.