Nick Kyrgios reached the fourth round at Indian Wells on Tuesday, beating fellow wunderkind Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-4 to set up a meeting with Novak Djokovic. As usual, he did it with the panache that endears him to so many—and disenchants so many others.
The basketball-loving, controversial Aussie is immensely talented and is widely regarded as a player with Grand Slam potential if he can fully commit himself mentally. Sure, Kyrgios is criticized for being unprofessional, but sometimes his supposed dearth of competitiveness reveals a more human side of the man, like when he encouraged Indian Wells second-round opponent Horacio Zeballos to challenge a call that originally went Kyrgios's way. Whether it was good sportsmanship or something else, Kyrgios was proven right by replay.
Kyrgios, 21, topped Djokovic in their first career meeting earlier this month in Acapulco, so Wednesday's round of 16 match will be must-watch, especially if he serves as well as he did against Zverev. (Though it will be overshadowed by Wednesday's meeting between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, with the winner of each match to meet in the quarterfinals.)
Kyrgios's refusal to adhere to convention, and sometimes common sense, is part of what makes the guy so much fun to watch.Take the last few days, for instance. Kyrgios is playing largely clean tennis, without any of the antics that rankle the John McEnroes of the world. (OK, so he did earn a code violation on Tuesday for yelling "bulls---!" following a point.) But right now he's winning without compromising the flair that makes him so entertaining.
Just watch these hot shots from Tuesday's match against Zverev, including a couple of his signature completely-unnecessary tweeners that are strategic only in the sense of throwing off his opponent. Like this critical point in the first set: Kyrgios has an opportunity to smack an effortless approach winner with the ball hanging in the air, but nah.
Zverev, probably just as shocked as everyone else, misses a routine volley. Brilliant.
Then there's this pair of points in the second set. In the first, Kyrgios seems to be jogging around the court, making court coverage look effortless. In the second, Kyrgios hits Zverev—who displays some excellent footwork, by the way—with a range of powerful groundstrokes and clever drop shots, culminating in a backhand winner down the line.
He later posted the video of that first point on his own Instagram, over the song "What They Want" by Russ.
One line from the song: "But honestly, Pop Pop would be turnin' in his grave / The day I let someone else become the boss of me / When there's a boss in me, I'll be damned." Tell 'em, Nick.