The crowd in Acapulco booed Nick Kyrgios all through his upset of Rafael Nadal, and kept that energy for his quarterfinal against three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka. When Kyrgios tripped in the first set and required treatment for a nickel-sized, oozing wound on his hand, they booed. When he hit a good serve and displayed mildly positive body language, they booed. When he won 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-4, and walked slowly to the net without cheering or gloating, they booed. (Did they remember his old below-the-belt jab at Wawrinka that somehow roped in Thanasi Kokkinakis?)
This Mexican Open run is that rare week where Kyrgios is doing everything right and still getting the villain treatment. At least he claims to enjoy it. “I actually play better when the crowd is against me and giving me a bit of stink,” he said after the match.
Kyrgios needed some the most focused tennis of his life to survive Wawrinka’s punitive groundstrokes. Typically a lethargic returner, the Australian even broke serve three times, and threatened to do it a fourth. He did so by displaying some unusual patience in the rallies:
But he also did plenty of it the Kyrgios Way. Start with one of the single fastest forehands the game has seen in a while. Wawrinka hit his forehand comically hard, and it was somehow slapped back even harder.
He also lined up returns that kept Wawrinka on his toes through many of his service games. Kyrgios, already dealing with bad knees, cramped up during the third set, so he was forced into triage. Up a break, he tactically tanked his penultimate return game to conserve some energy. But even with that limited mobility, he teed off on Wawrinka’s serves and nearly won the match with replies like these. Even first serves were abused:
Kyrgios could almost always find a forehand to end a rally when he felt like it. They came in all shapes and sizes. He threw a thunderbolt casually off one foot, while leaning back. He ambled up to an inside-out forehand and obliterated it. He tried out a one-two forehand drop-shot combo, forcing Wawrinka far back, then dragging him forward. Lots of his best shots are difficult to account for, physiologically; the legs seem almost asleep. The most that can be said is: weird arm, man.
This was a more impressive performance from Kyrgios than the Nadal upset, in terms of sustained quality. It’s about as well as he’s ever played. But now he’s coping with an array of injuries, and there are no major title winners left in the draw to command his full attention. For most players, that would be a relief. For Nick Kyrgios, this is when the real test of will begins.