Nick Kyrgios, a player for whom notoriety would appear preferable to no fame at all, had the unusual distinction of being warned for his behaviour before his match had even started on Tuesday on No2 Court.
Kyrgios, 21, has yet to reach a grand slam semi-final but already has a charge sheet as long as Ivo Karlovic. Here, before his 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 6-1 destruction of his friend Radek Stepanek, the Swedish umpire Mohamed Lahyani said to him: “Be careful with the language and try to keep the racket in your hand.”
Then, in the first game of the fourth set, Lahyani gave Kyrgios a warning for unsportsmanlike behaviour because of his language.
Kyrgios asked: “What did I do? What did I say? I want to know what I said?”
Lahyani replied: “You know what you said. I’m not going to repeat it.”
Lahyani appeared to issue his pre‑match warning to both players, for Stepanek, 37, has a reputation for a slightly more mature type of volatility. In fact No2 Court had a bad boys’ corner look about it for Kyrgios was followed into the arena by another combustible item, his fellow Australian Bernard Tomic.
Kyrgios, whose name sounds a little like ‘curious’, makes a strange study. He repeatedly squinted at the errant sky and made urgent tugs to his shirt, as if aware of some imminent danger. He chuntered to himself constantly, like Victor Meldrew in One Foot in the Grave. He asked any number of rhetorical questions. Between changeovers his head was scrunched down into his hunched shoulders, and his eyes darted anxiously about him, as if he were a lame gazelle on an African savannah with one of David Attenborough’s wildlife cameras looking for a bit of action.
When the tennis starts, however, he is more predator than prey. The 15th seed, who is scheduled to meet Andy Murray in the fourth round, is an awesome talent, blessed with both power and finesse. After he had lost the third set tie-break 11-9 he upped the tempo and won the first game of the fourth set with four straight aces. He also played one between-the-legs lob, which sailed over Stepanek and landed just inside the baseline, which was breathtaking.
And all the time, like Tomic later, he was cheered on by the Fanatics, a sort of miniature barmy army. At one point, though, he criticised a lack of support in the tie-break. “Why did you go quiet at 4-2?” he asked them.
Stepanek, who gave Murray such a difficult time in the French Open recently, was attempting to become the oldest man to win a grand slam singles match since the 40-year-old Jimmy Connors at the 1992 US Open. He remains a fine player, with a wicked slice and an eagerness to attack the net to make subtle volleys. But he was no match for the nonchalantly superior Kyrgios, who made a name for himself here two years ago when he arrived as a wild card and reached the quarter‑finals, beating the then No1 Rafael Nadal on the way. Last year he reached the last 16, where he was defeated by Richard Gasquet.
For a while, one suspects, the controversy will continue to outweigh the tennis. In that defeat by Gasquet Kyrgios appeared to stop trying at one point, and there was more swearing and racket‑hurling in the course of the match.
Last year he was given a 28-day ban and fined by the Association of Tennis Professionals for making comments about Stan Wawrinka’s girlfriend during a match. More recently, like Tomic, he pulled out of this year’s Rio Olympics and accused the Australian Olympic Committee of “unfair and unjust treatment” and “unwarranted attacks”.
After Tuesday’s win Kyrgios attempted to remove the bad bits. Asked about his language, he said: “I’m pretty sure we’ve all said [the word] in this room.”
Then he was asked if Stepanek could be the man to help him. He said: “When he stops, he might step into a role where I might bring him along to tournaments. I don’t know. I’m more than willing to give it a go with a guy like that, who has had such great success for a long time.”
But he did not like playing Stepanek in the first round. “To be honest, that’s a nightmare first round for anyone at Wimbledon. No one wants to play Radek here, for sure. I could have picked any of 90 guys in the draw that I would rather have played in the opening round. I wasn’t expecting anything less for him to compete and fight. I’m really glad I got through.”
Tomic, the 19th seed, must return to complete his match against Fernando Verdasco, who took Murray to five sets in the quarter-finals here in 2013. The pair were locked at two sets apiece when the terminal rain started to fall.
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