Rafael Nadal began his illustrious career as a prodigious teenager who took on the game’s greatest players on the sport’s grandest stages, and conquered them.
On Tuesday in the fourth round at Wimbledon, he found himself, for the first time, on the reverse side of the narrative.
Australian teen Nick Kyrgios, a wildcard ranked No.144, staged one of the greatest upsets in Grand Slam history by taking down the world No.1 and reigning Roland Garros champion in four sets on Centre Court. It was Kyrgios' debut on the famed court in what was his main draw debut at Wimbledon. But you would never have known that from watching him lap up the spotlight and revel in the occasion in front of 15,000 awestruck fans.
The 19-year-old had the statisticians digging through the archives for the “first since...” gems that mark such a victory. Kyrgios became the first man to reach the quarter-finals on his debut at the All England Club since German Florian Mayer in 2004. He is the first player ranked outside the world’s top 100 to defeat a world No.1 at a Grand Slam since Andrei Olhovskiy – then ranked No.193 – defeated American Jim Courier in the third round at Wimbledon 22 years ago.
And perhaps the most pertinent 'first' of all: the first teenager to defeat a world No.1 at a Grand Slam since Nadal himself defeated Roger Federer in the 2005 Roland Garros semi-finals.
The Spaniard could understand better than most how Kyrgios was able to handle such an occasion. “Everything is a little bit easier when you are arriving. Everything is new. Nothing to lose. Everything is good. Everything is positive. You can do whatever and will be positive, and everybody see just the good things on you,” he surmised.
Going by such logic, you might assume that any teenager, so long as they felt no pressure, could simply arrive on a big court, swing for the fences, enjoy the moment, and knock out a top seed. Yet there is a reason that this kind of outcome is so rare.
Indeed, there was something especially captivating in watching Kyrgios dismantle one of the greatest players of all time on the most storied arena in the sport. He had weapons. He had swagger. He played audacious shots. He thrived on the crowd support. He flourished in the most important junctures of the match. He had that look in his eye – directed at his entourage and growing more intense as the match wore on – that showed he believed. As he walked to the line to serve for the match leading 5-3 in the fourth, the outcome, incredibly, never looked in doubt.
The qualities on display were the kind that coaches say cannot be taught. They are the ones that prove the mark of a champion.
“I think on the big stage, it's something I thrive on, the atmosphere, the crowd. I just love it when, at 5-3, I think it was in the fourth set, they erupted, the crowd. I just love that feeling,” he revealed.
“At that stage you just think about all the work you put in. You know if you believe in yourself, especially with my serve, if I just go after it, hit the right spots, I'm going to have a pretty good shot to close out a match like that today.”
He held to love to close out the match.
Kyrgios’ success is causing waves back in his home country. And although he’s leading the way, he is just one of a talented crop of Australians re-establishing the country as a tennis force. He described feeling motivated by compatriot Marinko Matosevic’s take-down of No.18 seed Fernando Verdasco in the opening round here. He was joined in the main draw by fellow youngsters Luke Saville and James Duckworth, who as qualifiers progressed to the second round. He became the youngest and lowest-ranked player to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals since another Aussie, Bernard Tomic, in 2011.
And he made mention of another highly-rated Australian prospect, Thanasi Kokkinakis, his good friend and doubles partner in winning junior Wimbledon just 12 months ago. “He's extremely talented, if not more than me. He's going to have a great career. It's great that we can train together,” Kyrgios said.
Perhaps the most striking element to Kyrgios’ emergence this fortnight at the All England Club has been his composure. Someone of his age and inexperience could – after saving nine match points to beat No.13 seed Richard Gasquet in a then career-best win – have been content to bask in the glory, having already exceeded their own expectations.
But Kyrgios instead came out and ousted impressive Czech Jiri Vesely in four sets. And despite this stunning win over Nadal, he will adopt a similar approach in his quarter-final against No.8 seed Milos Raonic. “I'm just going to stay grounded. I'm just going to go home tonight and do everything possible for my next round tomorrow,” he said.
“I'm not feeling any pressure. I'm just feeling motivation to keep going and give my absolute all out there.”
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
20:03"I already have seven. It's not like I need another one. But it would have been awfully nice to have it. I think that's what the feeling was of the people, and I felt that... I know they love tennis. They love tennis after we're all gone."View all