Australia’s French Open tennis hopefuls have been handed challenging draws for the clay-court grand slam starting on Sunday in Paris.
An audacious under-arm ace and the second-fastest serve in tennis history haven’t been enough to spare Nick Kyrgios from a drama-charged second-round Wimbledon loss to Rafael Nadal.
In a gripping encounter that exceeded all the hype, Nadal avenged his stunning defeat to Kyrgios on the sport’s most hallowed court five years ago with a pulsating four-set triumph on Thursday.
Living up to its grudge-match-of-the year status, Nadal resisted the volatile Australian’s spirited challenge with a 6-3 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-3) victory in a three-hour-and-three-minute classic.
A series of verbal jousts between the two, chiefly Kyrgios’s taunting of the “super salty” Spaniard and Nadal’s “idiot” Uncle Toni in an explosive podcast, had dominated the build-up.
But such tasty barbs served as merely the appetiser to a spicy main course that had Wimbledon’s centre court crowd – and the umpire – on the edge of their seats.
Raging after losing a challenge on his first serve in the eighth game, Kyrgios promptly smashed down an unstoppable, untouchable second serve clocked at 143mph (230kph).
Only Ivo Karlovic’s 144mph (232kph) effort at the 2007 Legg Mason Classic has ever topped Kyrgios’s rocket serve, according to ATP statistics.
The sport’s most unpredictable talent quickly followed up with his under-arm ace, which brought a smile from even the fiercely intense Nadal.
Wimbledon’s famously conservative fans had never seen anything like it, and the daring tactic appeared to briefly unsettle Nadal.
The world No.2 uncharacteristically sliced a backhand long on the very next point and, although he held to take the opening set, Nadal dropped serve for the first time two games later.
Re-energised, Kyrgios charged to a 4-1 advantage only to be broken to love and then engage in an animated exchange with the chair umpire.
Upset at Nadal’s notorious go-slow antics, Kyrgios demanded French official Damien Dumusois enforced the shot clock on the 18-times grand slam champion.
When he did, an unimpressed Nadal immediately dropped serve as Kyrgios levelled the blockbuster up at one set apiece.
Not content with Dumusois’s intervention, Kyrgios walked a fine line when he branded the umpire a “disgrace” midway through the third set.
Kyrgios then riled Nadal when he speared a forehand into the advancing Spaniard’s midriff.
It was the second time in the match Kyrgios had taken aim at his opponent.
“It certainly wasn’t a passing shot, was it? He had time for a passing shot and he went for the head,” Australian commentator Todd Woodbridge said on BBC TV.
Nadal whipped the crowd into a frenzy when he celebrated winning the vital third-set tiebreaker.
The two-time champion was plain delirious when he finally subdued Kyrgios, who thundered down 29 aces, after another breaker to book to a last-16 meeting on Saturday with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
“He was a tough opponent. When he wants to compete, he’s one of the toughest opponents you can face,” Nadal said.
“It was an important victory for me. Sometimes it’s tough to see a couple of things on court.
“It’s amazing how good he is able to play, so if he is able to forget all these things, he’s potentially a grand slam winner.”