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Teenager Nick Kyrgios adds Jiri Vesely to his list of scalps

Nick Kyrgios hits a backhand
by Matt Trollope
Saturday 28 June 2014

Nick Kyrgios must have felt he was lucky just to have got to this stage at the 2014 Championships.

The 19-year-old Australian, a wild card ranked No.144, saved an astonishing nine match points to oust No.13 seed Richard Gasquet in the second round, a feat that belied his inexperience and signalled the arrival of the future star of the game.

So often, such a stunning result is followed by an emotional letdown. But not in Kyrgios’ case. He kept his fairytale run going at the All England Club with a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2 over Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic.

He’ll get a chance to test his mettle in the second week of a major for the first time, against the toughest opponent in tennis: world No.1 Rafael Nadal.

“I'm overwhelmed with happiness. Making my fourth round (debut) at a Grand Slam and the opportunity to play Rafa hopefully on Centre Court, but it's an opportunity I'm just going to embrace,” he said.

Those lucky enough to cram into quaint little Court 17 on Saturday were witnessing history – the first battle between two wildcards this deep in a Wimbledon championship. And given their ages – Vesely is a year older at 20 – the crowd also enjoyed a glimpse at the future of the men’s game.

They must have liked what they saw. Packing the stands and then craning their necks from every other vantage point – adjacent courts, over hedges and through aisles – they witnessed an exciting, athletic, powerful contest.

It was one that Vesely, early on, looked the most likely to claim. Roaring out of the blocks, the Czech broke serve in the second game en route to a 3-0 lead. He was unleashing service bombs so big that even Kyrgios could be heard acknowledging their impressiveness. The Aussie was ceding massive amounts of court to Vesely, who stood up on the baseline and pounded powerful drives to yank Kyrgios about the court. He lead 4-2, 30-0 before the skies opened.

A four-and-a-half hour rain delay ensued, yet it didn’t halt Vesely’s momentum. When the players returned to court, Kyrgios continued to lag well behind the baseline while Vesely cruised on serve to take an early lead.

“I think the rain delay played a massive part in that match. He had a lot of momentum. The rain came. I was in the locker room reflecting on what I have to do and change, and I thought I played some really good tennis in the last three sets,” Kyrgios assessed.

“To come back from a set down, it's really good for me, but I take a lot of confidence out of that, as well.”

Kyrgios indeed adjusted. Playing closer to the baseline, reacting quicker and managing to get the first strike in rallies more frequently, he always looked the most likely player in the second set. Despite games progressing on serve, it was the Australian who was regularly threatening to break, and that he eventually did; in the eighth game, his depth and consistency proved too much for the Czech, and Kyrgios passionately celebrated a 5-3 lead. Despite one set point going begging in the ensuing game, he scored a second chance and slammed an ace to level the match.

The crowd – dotted with brightly-dressed Australians – were overwhelmingly in Kyrgios’ corner, feeding off the intensity and passion the teenager brought to the court.

Not content with his already groundbreaking run at Wimbledon, Kyrgios chastised himself for any perceived poor effort and volubly rued missed opportunities, such as a down-the-line shot that would have brought up two set points in the 11th game of the third set.

But he also demonstrated an uncanny ability to refocus quickly; exhibiting some stunning defence, Kyrgios threw up a desperate lob to remain in a point and smacked a crosscourt backhand winner off Vesely’s reply.

This gave him the first service break of the set, and despite falling behind 0-30 when serving for a two-sets-to-one lead, he summoned an ace, a pair of winners and another ace to consolidate.

Court movement proved the main difference between these two powerful youngsters. Heading into the fourth, the less-mobile Vesely attempted to change tactics and regularly rushed the net. But it proved an ineffective strategy. In the fifth game, Kyrgios played a winning pass off a short volley to earn two break points, and again passed the net-bound Czech to break.

This wounded Vesely mentally; he wouldn’t win another game. Growing in confidence as the finish line approached, Kyrgios broke serve again in the seventh game to lead 5-2, and served out the following game to love, collapsing to the court in delight.

He is the youngest player to reach the fourth round since his compatriot Bernard Tomic in 2011. That year, Tomic advanced to the last eight. Could Kyrgios emulate such a feat? Fairytales always have a happy ending. And a win over Rafa to reach the quarter-finals could be his.

“Of course I have nothing to lose out there. Anything is possible. I'm just going to go out there and play my game,” Kyrgios said.

“I think that's definitely enough to be competitive.”

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