Wimbledon: Nick Kyrgios books his spot in the quarter-finals as he beats Brandon Nakashima


It was a tennis match. That’s all it was really. Not an event, not a prize fight, not weasels in a sack, not World War III. Nick Kyrgios came to Centre Court and won a tennis match. He can surprise you like that, sometimes.

So it’s an act. The rest of it. The tantrums, the bad language, the bullying, the confrontations with authority. He arrived on court in red shoes, and wore a red cap for his interview. The referees will speak to him about this, because Wimbledon is a white-out. But it’s hardly a capital offence. 

At one stage he was chuntering at the umpire about a challenge that was so misjudged it was comical and a voice from the crowd shouted: ‘Stop moaning.’ Kyrgios buttoned it, smartly. It was the only time across just over three hours of play when the tiresome toddler inside slipped the gate.

Nick Kyrgios has booked his spot in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon after beating Nakashima

Kyrgios let his tennis do the talking on the court after his encounter with Stefanos Tsitsipas

Kyrgios let his tennis do the talking on the court after his encounter with Stefanos Tsitsipas

The Australian player battled through shoulder pain to book a place in the quarter-finals

The Australian player battled through shoulder pain to book a place in the quarter-finals

Maybe that’s the answer. A smattering of Millwall fans in the Centre Court premium seats to keep order, deliver some reminders about the need for decorum. It was as if Kyrgios caught the tone in the voice and wisely decided to do as instructed. 

Maybe he will play up again the next time he thinks the match needs it, when he next decides he can get under an opponent’s skin. He clearly reached that conclusion about Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday and, in terms of mental degradation and the end justifying the means, he was right.

Brandon Nakashima is made of stolid stuff, however. Like his tennis, he is unshowy and largely unruffled. Only in the final set did his absence of experience show as his play collapsed under the pressure of the occasion and Kyrgios’ raised game. 

Nakashima has never played on Centre Court, has never got this far in a Grand Slam tournament and is still young enough, 20, to have the remnants of teenage spots. He got blown off course, 6-2, having won the fourth set with Kyrgios tossing away the final game, as he does sometimes. 

He can be schizophrenic like that: at one moment scarcely interested, at the next emotionally engaged with terrifying intensity. That was how he played the fifth set. And those peaks, married to outrageous natural talent, are why he can be so good to watch. 

Brandon Nakashima took the first set and then managed to force a fifth before losing

Brandon Nakashima took the first set and then managed to force a fifth before losing

The Australian had an injury scare with his shoulder early on

Kyrgios needed a medical time out on Centre Court

The Australian had an injury scare early on and needed a medical time out on Centre Court

But the 27-year-old recovered from the injury to fight his way back into the match

But the 27-year-old recovered from the injury to fight his way back into the match

That and his speed. He’s the Hurricane Higgins of tennis, the John Daly, the anti-Nadal, gripping it and ripping it, with barely time to blink or think. On one service game, by the time the crowd had finished taking their seats after the change of ends, he was 30-0 up. 

This was a five set, 50-match game, including one tiebreak and a medical time-out, that was over in three hours and 11 minutes. For the record, that was roughly how long Rafa Nadal took to play just under two sets against Alexander Zverev at the French Open.

And that’s why Kyrgios has his champions. The argument is that strip away the baggage and beneath lies one of the most exciting, gifted tennis players of this, or any, generation. And it’s true. 

He has an audacious ability, whether it is playing a shot from between his legs – he did that – or serving underarm, and he did that, too. That it came after three blistering aces merely added to the sense of theatre. It’s the Kyrgios Show that people like to watch.

Indeed, remove a rather repellent attitude to the people without whom there would not be a professional game – line judges, the umpires, the odd spectator – and what’s wrong with that? Take underarm serving. Whoever said it was disrespectful is missing the point. If the rules allow it, what is the problem? Keeps the opponent on his toes, needs to be executed with no end of skill, varies the norm. 

That’s entertainment, as Paul Weller would say. It’s also a pretty smart tactic if you’re skilled enough to pull it off. Kyrgios is. He won his point with the underarm serve, too – although only after a rally. And the crowd loved it.

Kyrgios has his head in his hands after suffering with a shoulder problem early on

Kyrgios has his head in his hands after suffering with a shoulder problem early on

However, the 27-year-old gritted his teeth and managed to pull off a superb performance

However, the 27-year-old gritted his teeth and managed to pull off a superb performance

Nakashima waves to the crowd after beating bested by Kyrgios across five sets on Monday

Nakashima waves to the crowd after beating bested by Kyrgios across five sets on Monday

So there’s the irony. For all the talk about tennis needing a character like Kyrgios, he is quite capable of playing compelling tennis without anyone needing to be abused or belittled. Indeed, it makes tennis look pretty lame if it requires a player to act up, to be rude, to be personally aggressive to make the sport interesting. It doesn’t.

Kyrgios and Nakashima playing five sets, straight, with little sideshow were still a great watch. The young man deserves enormous credit for the way he played. Taking the first set 6-4 he gave up just five points on serve to Kyrgios and two of those were double faults. And if Kyrgios had plans to disrupt he seemed to realise pretty quickly that Nakashima wasn’t going to rise to the bait.

Asked whether he was surprised not to face the full arsenal of Kyrgios’ distraction tactics, Nakashima said no. ‘Both of us handled ourselves pretty well,’ he added. ‘I didn’t focus on him too much. Everyone knows how talented he is. He can come up with big shots, serves really well, you just don’t know when it’s going to come out of him. He disguises his serve, it’s hard to read and he can hit all the spots.’

It was almost sweet, the mutual appreciation society. ‘I was really impressed with Brandon today,’ said Kyrgios. ‘His second serve was unbelievable, his backhand was so good. I had to keep my head down and battle. It was rope a dope at the end of the fourth, I threw away that service game to break his rhythm. You know, I feel like I’ve been through so much and today I was able to feel composed, smiling and laughing, knowing I was locked in an absolute battle with him. That’s probably the first time in my career, not playing well, where I could do that. There was a time when my agent had to get me out of a pub at 4am to play Nadal on Centre Court. Now I’m comfortable on my own skin.’

This was the mature elder statesman he yearns to become. At the end, he offered the journalist who asked about his headgear if he wanted the red cap as a souvenir. In the corridor he could be heard asking his team, ‘Why was he so aggressive with me?’ He sounded genuinely hurt, Nick the Nice Guy. The fans lined up just to get a glimpse as he left. But how long can it last?

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