This US Open is Nick Kyrgios’ BIGGEST opportunity to win a Grand Slam – with ALL the big guns out… but eccentric Aussie has to keep watching his temper against rivals he once called an ‘absolute pelican’ and another he branded ‘boring af’ to watch
- Nick Kyrgios is playing the best tennis of his career at the US Open right now
- Of the eight men left in singles, none of them have ever won a Grand Slam title
- Rafael Nadal’s shock defeat has presented Kyrgios with his best opportunity
- A mindset change in 2022 has seen Kyrgios go on to fulfill his immense potential
- He must, however, avoid being riled up by rivals looking to get under his skin
- READ: How fiery social media spat ensures Kyrgios quarter-final will have drama
Nick Kyrgios looks a man transformed this year and by that it is, more or less, the histrionics that clung to him throughout previous seasons have largely vanished.
Gone are the days of him drinking in a Wimbledon pub until 4am on the day of his match with Rafael Nadal in 2019 and gone, he hopes, are the days of his epic meltdown default against Casper Ruud in Rome, also in 2019.
Having knocked off world No 1 Daniil Medvedev to reach the quarter-finals of the US Open, dropping just two sets en route, there is a growing sense that the stars are aligning for the Aussie in the Big Apple.
‘Before I would be out every night, but now I have a great girlfriend,’ he said after beating the top-seeded Medvedev.
‘My team, it’s all my team, I’m working really hard, I hope I can keep it going.
‘I don’t want to let them down, I’ve been on the road for four months, we all have families we want to see, I want to make this count.’
Nick Kyrgios is playing the best tennis of his life right now in the quarter-finals of the US Open
Kyrgios enjoys some sightseeing with girlfriend Costeen Hatzi in Washington DC before the US Open. He credits Hatzi for her influence on his better playing results and his calmer approach
And after Carlos Alcaraz bumped 2014 champion Marin Cilic out and home favourite Frances Tiafoe stunned Nadal, all eight of the men left standing in the singles’ event have yet to win a major. This feels, unquestionably, like Kyrgios’ to lose from here.
‘I rate that as the best match I’ve seen Nick Kyrgios play in a grand slam tournament,’ Aussie tennis icon Todd Woodbridge told Channel 9.
‘That was a performance for the ages.’
Kyrgios could have broken his Majors duck at Wimbledon, only to go down 4–6, 6–3, 6–4, 7–6 to the warrior that is Nadal.
That one hurt as Kyrgios loves Wimbledon and had dreamed for years that that was the pinnacle of sporting achievement.
And yet here he stands in the quarter-finals in New York as the favourite in a Slam. No Novak Djokovic, no Rafael Nadal, no Roger Federer, no Medvedev, just young guns all fighting for their first Slam.
Karen Khachanov and then one of Matteo Berrettini – a former Wimbledon finalist – or Casper Ruud – a 2022 French Open finalist – stand between him and Sunday’s final in front of a packed Arthur Ashe stadium.
Picking holes in Kyrgios’ game right now is tricky and so it is his mentality, the guard he has managed to keep up that he cannot let slip now.
Both Khachanov and Ruud have previous with Kyrgios, that’s the problem. The only barrier between Kyrgios and the title, arguably, is himself.
The Ruud drama may never need be dug up, that will all depend on if he can navigate a way past Berrettini, a massive server who has a 1-0 record over Kyrgios dating back to their only meeting in 2019 on the grass in Stuttgart.
His row with Khachanov, a player he labelled an ‘absolute pelican’ two years ago, has provided a feisty backdrop to the quarter-finals, though.
Russian Karen Khachanov reacts after beating Pablo Carreno in their fourth round clash
Khachanov and Kyrgios got into a social media spat in 2020 which culminated in the Aussie labelling his fellow player an ‘absolute pelican’
Kyrgios took issue with Khachanov on Twitter at the height of the pandemic in September 2020, slamming the Russian, and other players, for their lackadaisical approach to Covid-19.
Kyrgios was vocal in denouncing events such as Djokovic’s disastrous Adria Tour exhibition event but Khachanov elected to take him on.
Their very public Twitter feud has lit the touchpaper for a tense showdown.
‘Once you are sitting at home and writing different comments about players that makes me think who has the real problem,’ Khachanov wrote on Twitter.
‘So you think what the players did during this pandemic was smart? I’d love to have an intellectual conversation with you but I’m not sure it would go further than how hard you could hit a ball. I’ve simply been holding people accountable,’ Kyrgios shot back.
Record against opponents standing between him and Sunday’s final
H2H vs Karen Khachanov: 1-1
2019 – Khachanov won 6-7, 7-6, 6-2 in Cincinnati (hard court)
2020 – Kyrgios won 6-2, 7-6, 6-7, 6-7, 7-6 at Australian Open (hard court)
H2H vs Berrettini: 0-1
2019: Berrettini won 6-3, 6-4 in Stuttgart (grass)
H2H vs Ruud: 1-1
2019 – Ruud won, 6-3, 6-7, 2-1* (DEFAULTED) in Rome (clay)
2022 – Kyrgios won 6-4, 6-4 in Indian Wells (hard court)
As the back-and-forth exchange went on like some of their on-court rallies tend to do, Kyrgios was told to ‘read a few books instead of playing video games’ before discussing his intelligence. Kyrgios was furious.
‘I’ve also been feeding the hungry, helping open up new facilities for kids to get active. But way to do your research you absolute pelican,’ Kyrgios concluded.
And that was it. No public feud since then – although they haven’t faced off on court since the episode.
They are 1-1 in head-to-head standings. In 2019, with Kyrgios yet to see the penny drop in just how special he can be if he focused, Khachanov edged a three-set thriller in Cincinnati to win 6-7, 7-6, 6-2.
Months later Kyrgios exacted his revenge at the Australian Open in a war of attrition 6-2, 7-6, 6-7, 6-7, 7-6 win.
Khachanov is not intimidated or afraid of Kyrgios and is a clever returner. But his inability to kill opponents off in straight sets can be looked at as both a help and a hindrance.
His endurance is immense; five-set matches are second nature. But the speed in which Kyrgios rifles his points down the court – and the very short gaps between serves – mean the Aussie can take matches away from players in the blink of an eye.
Winning 78 per cent of his first serve points against Medvedev is form nobody on the tour can effectively – and consistently – compete with, frankly.
Come through Khachanov and it’s either Berrettini, who dated Ajla Tomljanovic some years after her split from Kyrgios, or Ruud, who once called for the ATP Tour to kick Kyrgios off the circuit for six months after he was defaulted in Rome in 2019.
Berrettini and Kyrgios have not clashed publicly but the No 23 seed in New York has plenty of previous with Ruud.
Kyrgios also has plenty of background drama with Casper Ruud, a potential semi-final rival
Should that semi-final be etched in the diary it would be only their third career meeting.
Their first meeting was the most controversial with Ruud progressing at the 2019 Italian Open in Rome after Kyrgios was defaulted in a deciding set.
At 1-1 in the third, Kyrgios was handed a game penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and, as he so often did in that time, he did not take it well.
Kyrgios broke a racquet, booted a water bottle and then proceeded to throw a chair on court. The chair umpire defaulted and Ruud reached the third round.
But their row ignited on social media later following remarks Ruud gave to Scandinavian media months on from that episode in Rome.
‘He can say as much as he wants about getting disqualified but it still says 1-0 to me,’ Ruud told Tennisportalen.
‘I don’t know, he was totally crazy when I played him. It was nice to win. If I celebrated after the match or not? I don’t care. I was happy I got 90 points and $50,000 in prize money so why wouldn’t I celebrate?
‘It’s his problem that he’s an idiot on court.’
Back fired Kyrgios, claiming that Ruud would never have dared label him an ‘idiot’ to his face in the players’ locker room.
‘Hey Casper Ruud,’ Kyrgios tweeted, ‘next time you have something to say, I would appreciate you say it to my face, I’m sure you wouldn’t run your mouth so much after that. Until then I will continue to rather watch paint dry then watch you play tennis, boring af.’
He wasn’t done.
After Kyrgios was defaulted in Rome in 2019 against Ruud, they got into it on social media months later and the Aussie said Ruud is ‘boring af’ and he would ‘rather watch paint dry’
‘I also understand why you have to keep my name in your mouth, because people don’t even realise that you play tennis, goodluck in Milan champ.’
Kyrgios, comfortably, won their most recent meeting in Indian Wells – their only clash on a hard court – and Ruud, a beaten French Open finalist this year, will know the task is rarely greater than a dialled in Kyrgios, not least with his monster serve.
It is something John McEnroe believes is the best in the history of the sport. High praise indeed.
‘First of all, I’ve said this before, the guy has got one of the greatest serves in the history of tennis,’ McEnroe said after the Medvedev win.
‘The guy was serving at 70 per cent – I don’t think people realise that’s the highest on tour, how big he serves, how good his second serve is – now he is backing it up big time. If he plays like he did last night, he is going to win the tournament.
‘The guy is a genius on the court, he doesn’t need a coach, he did an unbelievable job tactically. Nick needs to be comfortable with the team that is around him. It’s a tough job sometimes being in Kyrgios’ box – he’s in such a great place mentally and it’s like ‘he’s figured it out’.
‘He’s 27, he’s coming into his prime. I like him, he moves the needle. I’m glad he turned it around.’
Kyrgios is the favourite in New York now and he cannot fall into bad habits of beating himself
The ‘Big Three’ of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have dominated men’s tennis for so long it has been nigh-on impossible to break their streak.
Take the last 72 Slams as a sample size, only eight have been won by players outside of Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Andy Murray. That’s 11 per cent, give or take.
But, for once, it is Kyrgios’ tennis that is doing the talking this season. The issue the Aussie will always have, no matter how focused he appears, is that drama never seems to be too far away.
He has to, as he put it himself, ‘make this count’ as he may never get a greater path to prosperity than the one that has been paved at Flushing Meadows.
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