Serve & bully (not): Nick Krygios’ roiling antics will need to take a backseat in Wimbledon final

Written by Namit Kumar

Updated: July 8, 2022 1:25:57 am

Australia's Nick Kyrgios returns the ball to Chile's Cristian Garin during a men's singles quarterfinal match on day ten of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Wednesday, July 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Nick Kyrgios is among the most divisive characters in modern tennis. The Australian has only played 14 tournaments on tour since February 2020, but still dominates headlines whenever he takes the court, mostly owing to his constant outbursts, directed at the crowd, umpires, line judges, and even himself.

Perhaps predictably so, as he is set to play the final at Wimbledon for the first time in his maiden Grand Slam semifinal, tennis fans find themselves speculating about what kind of temperament he will be in when he comes to Centre Court. And discussion about his grass-friendly, big-hitting game has invariably taken the backseat.

Serve-centric playing style

Kyrgios’ one obvious strength – which has made him one of the most dangerous grasscourters on tour – is his serve.

His serve is able to find record speeds without fail, and he often uses it to hit aces and win cheap points, or set up a powerful forehand winner – which he can hit both flat and with topspin. Unlike other players dependent on their serve, his second serve is just as deadly as his first, and he is never conservative with it: usually hitting it with similar pace and accuracy. He also has great touch, which can be used to redirect pace from the baseline as well as hit solid volleys at the net.

A first Grand Slam semi-final ✅@NickKyrgios defeats Cristian Garin 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(5)#Wimbledon

— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 6, 2022

Kyrgios burst onto the scene with a quarterfinal finish at Wimbledon in 2014, which he set up after beating Nadal in four sets in the fourth round.

Their next meeting at SW19 came in 2019, by which time Nadal had tweaked his playing style under the watchful eye of Carlos Moya. Those tweaks perfectly exploited Kyrgios’ limited shotmaking arsenal.

Nadal’s aggressive serve did not allow much room to the Aussie, and his willingness to leave the baseline does not make the matchup as one dimensional as before. His return positioning from way behind the baseline usually allows him to neutralise Kyrgios’ serve, enabling him to construct the point and exploit his opponent’s poor movement.

These reasons are likely why Nadal has won four of their last five encounters.

The disruptor

Kyrgios’ game can be erratic, and largely dependent on how well his serve is firing. So, in favourable positions or not, his outbursts are a part of his erratic game. Whether genuine or tactical, Kyrgios’ antics play a vital role in disrupting the rhythm of his opponent, and sometimes his own.

Handed a major boost in his draw, thanks to last year’s finalist and big pre-tournament favourite Matteo Berrettini contracting COVID-19, he has only played one top 10 opponent, a four-set win over Stefanos Tsitsipas. And the match was full of the Aussie’s trademark antics. The 27-year-old’s outbursts cost him the first set, in which he was undoubtedly the better player, but soon they had the opposite effect – getting under the skin of his opponent and extracting a few more errors, and a few more lapses in judgement.

If Kyrgios is to go all the way at SW19 this week, he likely faces three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic (against whom he is unbeaten in two previous meetings) in the summit clash. Against a player with this kind of mental fortitude and ability – both of which were on full display in his five-set quarterfinal win – however unlikely, he will need to let his tennis do the talking.

“I never thought I’d be at a semi-final of a Grand Slam”@NickKyrgios thought his ship had sailed but he’s through to the last four#Wimbledon

— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 6, 2022

Assault allegation

Kyrgios’ maiden Grand Slam final run comes under the cloud of serious allegations. As The Canberra Times reported on Tuesday that the Aussie has been summoned to a Canberra court after allegedly assaulting ex-girlfriend Chiara Passari in December 2021.

He said he had been advised by his lawyers to stay quiet about the charge, and admitted the court summons has had a psychological effect on him following the quarterfinal win over Christian Garin.

This is not the first time a top men’s tennis player has faced such allegations, as they come in the wake of ATP’s still ongoing investigations into domestic abuse allegations levelled against Alexander Zverev in November 2020 by his ex-girlfriend Olga Sharypova.

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Even if it is unlikely to deter the Centre Court crowd from cheering on his trickshots, showboating, and unbelievably quick serves, the allegations have dampened the greatest result of his career, and will likely be playing on his mind.

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