Caring about Nick Kyrgios is a generally unpredictable and unhappy ride with occasional moments of vindication. So do not let the following get your expectations up, but ... it’s been a little while since he’s looked this good on the grass coming into Wimbledon.
It’s the major that hurtled Kyrgios into fame, the major that he has the best shot at winning and—given the hilarious contrast of persona and environment—would be most satisfying to see him win. This doesn’t rule out the possibility that this year he loses in the second round to a qualifier after turning his tennis racket into a Möbius strip; we’re just saying he’s played well in the tune-up tournaments at Stuttgart and Queen’s Club.
The 23-year-old sat out the entire clay season to recover from an elbow injury, and he took well to the grass. Last Saturday, Kyrgios was within two points of taking down Roger Federer at the Stuttgart semifinal. For all the difficulties he has when playing the world No. 94s out there, he has typically had little trouble ratcheting up his play to match the GOATs. His contests with Roger are ace festivals determined by highly entertaining tiebreaks, and their latest was no different. He was almost there. In his next match at the first round of Queen’s Club, he welcomed Andy Murray back to the tour after a yearlong injury absence, only he seemed to be doing everything possible to let him win. There was the classic four-straight double-fault episode, three consecutive putaway overheads bunted back into play until the point was lost—all the greatest hits. Murray had beaten him in all five previous matches (once at each major and once more in Canada), and possibly there is some mental block here because they’re such good friends off the court. But eventually Kyrgios won in spite of himself, rounding out his career victories against each of the Big Four. His victories have become much more straightforward in the days since. He dispatched Kyle Edmund in three sets, and today he took down grass-court menace Feliciano Lopez in straights, 7-6(5), 7-6(3).
A somewhat subdued Kyrgios has been on display this week. It’s all relative. All the usual frustration is still roiling: the constant head shaking between points, even points he won; the regular hollering of “fuck” that inspires curt little apologies from the commentators. But maybe the “fuck”s have turned more cathartic, and maybe that frustration has been better compartmentalized, because the on-court results are positive. He’ll still let his effort lapse when he decides it is not worth it—like today, down 0-40 in a return game, when he stood stationary, racket lowered, and let Lopez’s last serve sizzle by him—but he’s not sparing any energy or focus in the tiebreaks, which he knows dictate his fate on this surface. He’s won four of six breakers so far in the grass season. Elsewhere, he continues to get away with the impossible, such as hop-skipping into a chill swinging volley from the baseline, you know, a very normal shot:
Today’s quarterfinal was made up of miniature points like that one. That is the kind of rhythm to expect when serve-and-volleying Lopez, who win this event last year, faces up against Kyrgios, who just served a ludicrous 32 aces in two sets. The longest point of their match was also its best, and a fine example of what the Australian can do when he knows a match-clinching mini-break is on the line, and a victory milkshake is that much closer to his grasp. He waited out Lopez’s smooth all-court game and filthy slices in an drawn-out exchange that looked like it belonged on clay:
That’s Kyrgios at his best: getting playful with his changes of pace, staying patient without getting complacent, making the absurd angle look easy. He’ll need a little more of that steadiness, to go along with all the usual pyrotechnics, to do his talent justice this grass season.