Well, that was entertaining, huh?
After his four-set victory over No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday at Wimbledon, Nick Kyrgios told the crowd, “The media loves to write that I’m bad [for] the sport, but I'm clearly not.”
The match had everything: high-powered serving from both players, trick shots (Kyrgios), arguments with chair umpire Damien Dumusois (from both players) and a fourth-set tiebreak that produced some beautiful tennis.
Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim broke down Kyrgios’s win, which earned the 27-year-old Australian his first trip to the fourth round since 2016.
Q: Is Nick Kyrgios “bad for the sport”?
Jon Wertheim: That’s an increasingly hard case to make. Some of the things he does we would probably not be happy about if our kids did it, but overall it’s hard to argue he is anything but a “net good” for the sport. Some of it is, the more you see him and the more you are around him, the more you know this is not someone with bad intent—this is someone who has some mental health challenges, which he has openly talked about and shared. He doesn’t always comport himself well. There are individual acts that are regrettable, but overall? It’s not that he’s just good for “entertainment.” This isn’t someone who is the “villain of tennis.” This is someone who, in many ways, is quite likable and he is doing it like no one else. There is enough good to offset the bad.
Q: We can’t imagine trying to balance mental health challenges with being a tennis player at that level in such a singular sport. What does it tell you, Kyrgios coming out of this match, about that struggle or balance, especially given how open he has been of his struggles as recently as two months ago?
JW: I talked about this with him the other day. He says he’s in a good place after being in a dark place a few months ago and he’s very open about it. He went right into it. Rafael Nadal was playing at the same time as Kyrgios and Tsitsipas on Saturday. This is someone who has won the past two Slams, and he’s trying to win the third straight Slam to keep the Calendar Slam chase alive and add on to the 22 major titles he already has. But every single television here, every single fan on Henman Hill, all the electricity was focused on the Kyrgios match. It’s something tennis needs to reckon with—he is polarizing and he might not win sportsmanship awards, but it’s undeniably entertaining and electrifying to watch him. I don’t know how you contest that.
I am watching Court 1 right now and the match ended, what, 11 minutes ago, and Kyrgios is still on the court signing autographs and taking selfies with every single fan at the edge of the court. Sometimes, there are athletes who are jerks and we just say, “Appreciate what they do on the competition field,” but with him, it’s much more complicated than that. He does some things that are really admirable.
Q: The match had electricity, and drama. Three code violations were handed out by Dumusois, one for Kyrgios for an audible obscenity, and two to Tsitsipas for ball abuse, earning a point penalty. One of the ball abuse violations was after Tsitsipas dropped the second set and he launched a ball into the stands, narrowly missing a spectator—a move that led Kyrgios to have, um, words with Dumusois.
“What are you talking about, bro? Bring out more supervisors. I’m not done. Bring ’em all out. I don’t care. ... I’m not playing until we get to the bottom of this. You can’t hit a ball into the crowd and hit someone and not get defaulted.”
It brought back memories of Novak Djokovic, who was ejected from a match at the 2020 U.S. Open after inadvertently hitting a ball that struck a line judge in the throat.
JW: This match could have been viewed as the UFC 276 undercard, a cage match masquerading as a tennis match. We knew going in this was going to be dramatic and it lived up to expectations. There was a certain irony that Kyrgios was claiming Tsitsipas’s launched ball being an injustice when he himself has nearly been defaulted in past matches for similar moves. This looked like the ball narrowly missed the fan, and the chair umpire clearly didn’t see it. This is a rule that clearly needs to be reassessed. You miss someone by a millimeter after firing a ball into the crowd, and it’s O.K.? Tsitsipas is lucky he didn’t get booted right on the spot.
These two players have a lot of history to start with. They both come from Greek heritage, but that’s where the similarities end. They approach things very differently. Some players know how to deal with Kyrgios and his antics, some relish it, some either get pissed off or play along with him. Tsitsipas is his own guy and this is not his thing—he doesn’t do confrontation, he doesn't do histrionics. He is a sensitive soul and Kyrgios knows this. He knew this was the player whose head he could get into very easily. At one point during the match, if Tsitsipas didn’t cry, it sure looked like he came close. Then, 10 minutes later, he is rifling the ball at Kyrgios multiple times and got penalized for it. Again, it was great theater. As a sports fan, the match had everything. It had really good moments of tennis, too, but that’s not what people are going to be talking about.
Q: And you saw that in the fourth-set tiebreak. There were some great half-volleys from Kyrgios and his serve continued to bail him out of points when he needed it to.
JW: Keep in mind, Tsitsipas is ranked fourth. So, why are they playing in the third round? Because Kyrgios isn’t seeded. For as much as we talk about him, this is a player who is not among the top 32 players in the world, at least by ranking, but everyone recognizes the absurd amount of talent he has. Now, sometimes, that comes out with a trick shot, but that just gives an insight into how good his hands are, how good his touch is. Sometimes, it’s the 135-mph serve. No one is really going to talk about the tennis, and in some ways, he played a really wonderful match Saturday.
If you’re over .500 in errors versus winners, it’s usually a good day at the office. In his previous match, he had 50 winners and 10 unforced errors. Against Tsitsipas, he wasn’t as successful, but he still had 61 winners and 31 errors. And this is against the No. 4 player in the world. There were some crazy angled shots and, of course, trick shots and then half-volleys. Kyrgios’s game is really well-suited for grass with his touch and quickness. He could actually win this tournament.
Q: What are the takeaways for Tsitsipas now? Obviously, grass isn’t his strongest surface, but the loss will still sting.
JW: He still has a ways to go on grass. Some of the feedback from Saturday is very specific to Kyrgios. Next time I play this guy, I’ve got to do X. Next time, I can’t let his antics bother me. Next time, I’ve got to count to 10. Next time, I can’t be rifling a ball into the stands and risk getting defaulted. But this is a player who has been knocking on the door of a major for a good three or four years now. He’s come close, but these disappointments mount up and doubts come with it. Every time he fails to close one of these out, it only becomes more of a burden the next time.
Q: And as you mentioned, the draw favors Kyrgios.
JW: He plays American Brandon Nakashima next for a spot in the quarterfinals. Nakashima is everything Kyrgios is not—stone-faced, very measured, no dramatics whatsoever, he gives you nothing. Still, Kyrgios should win that match, and then, he’s in the final eight, and then, who knows? His spirits have seemed great, his tennis has been great, his serve has been amazing. He did say to me this week he still can’t bring himself to practice with any regularity, so who knows if he has the physical durability over more matches. Still, it would not be far-fetched to speculate that he could win this whole thing.
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