Wednesday 16 October 2019

Kyrgios adds fuel to fire for grudge match with 'polar opposite' Nadal

Australian Nick Kyrgios. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
Australian Nick Kyrgios. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Oliver Brown

It promises to be a Wimbledon sequel worth the wait. Nick Kyrgios versus Rafael Nadal, Part II: This Time It's Personal. Five years have passed since the Australian, then a teenager, took Nadal apart here in a blur of loose-limbed energy, and much has changed ahead of tomorrow's reunion, not just in the sport, but in their relationship.

While the Spaniard's uncle and long-time former coach Toni has felt comfortable criticising Kyrgios as uneducated and attention-seeking, such provocation has now drawn a withering response.

"Can I ask you what his uncle said to me first?" Kyrgios demanded of a reporter. "Do you have that fact?" Toni Nadal argued on a Spanish radio station earlier this year that Kyrgios's mid-match histrionics, at their wildest yesterday in a turbulent five-set win over compatriot Jordan Thompson, were hurting the sport.

"It's bad for tennis," he said. "His attitude is pretty painful." The killer insult came when he accused him of being devoid of "education and smartness".

True to form, tennis's enfant terrible was quick with a riposte at the time, ranting: "Bro, I did 12 years at school, you idiot. I understand you're upset that I beat your family."

He doubled down by describing Rafael himself as "super-salty" and "literally my polar opposite".

After sealing his place in a mouth-watering second-round tie, he poured further kerosene on the fire, shrugging: "I'm not sure Rafa and I could go down to the Dog and Fox and have a beer together."

To be fair, Nadal has never seemed the beer-swilling type, but Kyrgios can rest assured that his aversion to his opponent is mutual.

Nadal does not take kindly to those who play the clown. He was irritated enough when Robin Soderling once unwisely aped his pre-shot short-tugging routine, and he has long shown disdain for an opponent who tries to draw a crowd reaction by serving underarm. When Kyrgios attempted one of those pea-rollers against him in Acapulco in March, Nadal claimed that such a tactic "lacked respect".

In every sense, the pair form the most vivid contrast. Where Nadal agonises over every detail of his preparation, Kyrgios slopes on to court with the distracted air of a man who, by his own admission, has sometimes been up all night playing computer games.

His bizarre 7-6, 3-6, 7-6, 0-6, 6-1 win over Thompson was a case in point, full of behaviour that defied rational analysis. He earned a code violation for berating a line judge. He idly amused himself by practising a forward defensive cricket shot. He ran around like a madman upon winning a third-set tie-break, only to tank the fourth, losing it 6-0 in 18 minutes. As a psychiatrist once said of Basil Fawlty: "There's enough material there for an entire conference."

Nadal's main challenge tomorrow lies in screening out the tics of the angst-ridden renegade across the net. It is one for which he appears well equipped, after dispatching Japan's Yuichi Sugita 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 last night.

When told of Kyrgios's comments, Nadal shot back: "I'm too old for all this stuff. I'm not going to be in a fight with anybody. I'm here to enjoy my sport."

It is one of the quirks of Kyrgios's confounding career that when faced with the greatest players, he often finds a way to rouse himself from his infuriating indolence. He has won both his matches against world No 1 Novak Djokovic, and the memory of his 2014 triumph over Nadal on Centre Court remains inscribed upon his memory.

"I've looked back on that moment," he said. "That's never going to leave me - it's one of the most special moments I've had. I know if I play the right type of tennis, I can have success against him." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Wimbledon, Live eir Sport 1 11.0 BBC2 1.0/BBC1 1.45

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