In his last match Nick Kyrgios fired 23 aces and 63 winners, argued with the umpire, slumped over the net and played dead. He also hit an underarm serve on set point in the third set, which failed, shaped to imitate a forward defensive cricket shot and celebrated a point by running madly around the perimeter of the court.
Earlier this year Rafael Nadal accused the Australian of “lacking respect for the public, the rival and towards himself.” Kyrgios said this week: “Uhm, not sure that me and Rafa could go down to the Dog & Fox and have a beer together.”
In May Nadal’s Uncle Toni and his former coach weighed in. “It is bad for tennis and has entered a dynamic that hurts him. Something is failing. It is not normal,” he said.
What was there not to love on Centre Court in a Spaniard who has squeezed so much from his prodigious talent, and a 24-year-old Australian who appeared to abandon any hope of fulfilling his and who has never gotten beyond the third round of a Grand Slam?
In a high tempo game Kyrgios again fell short 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(3) but renewed faith that he is a potential champion.
“I know what I’m capable of. Just depends. I’m a great tennis player. But I don’t do the other stuff. I’m not the most professional guy. I won’t train day in, day out. I won’t show up every day,” said Kyrgios who was seen in a pub in Wimbledon the night before.
“So there’s a lot of things I need to improve on to get to that level that Rafa brings, Novak, Roger have been doing for so long. Just depends how bad I want it.”
In contrast Roger Federer's earlier straight set win over Britain's Jay Clarke was quorn to the nostril stinging green chilli curry of Nadal and Kyrgios. The Australian was brash and dazzling although when his serve was broken in the second game, with Nadal taking the first set 6-3, people rightly doubted.
His reaction was to pick up his play and pocket the second set 6-3, with an under arm serve, cheeky and effective and a code violation pinned to his chest. Typically Kyrgios was complaining about the umpire’s sanction several games later at the changeover.
While the enmity between the pair was not on show, eye contact was never part of the high octane duel with Kyrgios oozing chutzpah and hitting more winners, Nadal playing with all round zip especially off his forehand.
The former champion narrowly stole the third set on a tiebreak, his leap in the air and howling reaction celebrating the fact the Australian would have to play five sets to beat him. In that epic scenario Kyrgios would likely be the first to go into Centre Court debt.
The quality of the tennis was captivating, the polar opposites hitting a level of play that rarely found middle ground, Kyrgios busting out idiosyncratic hops and skips whenever he hit a winner and eagerly leaping into the air to slam dunk smashes.
In the third set a champagne cork flew on to the court, perhaps a kind of salute to the vintage play. But no chinks were showing on either side, Kyrgios earning a gold star for good behaviour and the match shaping into the first El Clasico.
It inevitably drew towards a fourth set tiebreak, neither player able to separate the other from his serve as the match hit the three hour mark.
An easy volley miss on the first point by Kyrgios critically pushed the tiebreak in Nadal’s favour. Then 1-0 became 3-0 and while the Australian closed the gap to 3-2, a bad push wide from Kyrgios and the Spaniard sped to a 5-2 lead. There was no way back. Nadal took it on the first of three match points.
Kyrgios played an even better press conference and was accused of taking aim at Nadal with the ball, something Nadal confirmed and Kyrgios didn’t deny.
“I didn’t hit him. Hit his racquet, no,” said Kyrgios.
“Why would I apologise? I won the point,” he added. However, Nadal was not pleased.
“I don’t care,” said Kyrgios. “Why would I apologise? I mean, the dude has got how many slams, how much money in the bank account? I think he can take a ball to the chest, bro. I’m not going to apologize to him at all.
“ Yeah, I was going for him. Yeah, I wanted to hit him square in the chest. Like, he’s got decent hands.”
No love lost alright and a danger passed for Nadal.
“Potentially he is a Grand Slam winner,” said the twice champion, who declined to comment on Kyrgios calling the umpire a disgrace during the match.