WIMBLEDON, England — All white is the dress code at Wimbledon, the oldest and most traditional of the 4 Grand Slam tennis tournaments. So when Nick Kyrgios wears a black hat for his on-court interview, he’s sending a message.
And that’s what he did Saturday night on the No. 1 Court, after his emotional, fireworks-filled, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7) win over Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, the No. 4 seed.
As Wimbledon heads into its second week, the ladies’s tournament is wide open and there may be potential for a men’s final of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, which looks more inevitable every day. After which there may be Kyrgios, a dangerous and disruptive force who has a lot pure talent, but is so temperamental and flamable, and so drawn to, and disgusted by, his chosen career that the game can neither control him nor ignore him.
He plays when he seems like it, then disappears for months, only to return to wreak havoc and supply headline-grabbing theater.
“All over the place I am going I’m seeing full stadiums,” he said after his battle with Tsitsipas. “The media loves to jot down that I’m bad for the game but clearly not.”
Kyrgios is an immensely talented Australian who has an ambivalent relationship with the pains and requirements of skilled tennis. He relishes his role because the game’s great outlaw, unafraid to jaw with, spit toward or berate judges and umpires.
He badgers the young staff on the court for not keeping the changeover chairs stocked with fresh towels and bananas. He smashes rackets. One ricocheted off the bottom and really nearly crashed into the face of a ball boy at a tournament in California this 12 months. His boorish displays commonly garner tens of hundreds of dollars in fines.
Then he’ll return to the court and fire one of the vital dangerous serves in the sport. He puts on the form of magical shotmaking clinic — shots between the legs, curling forehands, underhanded aces — that other players can only dream about.
He’s the ticking time bomb who packs stadiums and has hordes of young fans. He’s without delay the game’s worst nightmare and its meal ticket: hard to look at but additionally hard to not.
When he loses, it’s at all times another person’s fault. When he wins, it’s because he has overcome all manner of forces against him — tournament directors, the news media, the tennis establishment, fans who’ve hurled racial slurs at him.
“Unscripted. Unfiltered. Unmissable,” is how the @Wimbledon Twitter feed put it Saturday night as Kyrgios, in all of his brilliance and brattiness, overpowered and outfinessed Tsitsipas over three hours.
All evening, Kyrgios went after the chair umpire in addition to the tournament referees and supervisors for not defaulting Tsitsipas after he angrily sent a ball into the gang, coming dangerously near directly hitting a fan on the fly. Kyrgios claimed the umpire surely would have sent him off had he done the identical thing. (He might not be fallacious on that one.)
The nearly infinite complaints and interruptions rattled Tsitsipas. He struggled to take care of his composure, complaining to the chair umpire that just one person on the court was fascinated about playing tennis, while the opposite was turning the match right into a circus. Then he took matters into his own hands, and began attempting to peg Kyrgios along with his shots. The group of greater than 10,000 grew louder with each confrontation.
It became only more intense after Kyrgios finished off Tsitsipas within the tiebreaker with three unreturnable shots — a signature half-volley into the open court; a ripped, backhand winner; and a drop shot from the baseline that died on the turf just beyond Tsitsipas’s reach.
The drama was cresting because the Tsitsipas and Kyrgios news conferences descended right into a name-calling, insult-filled debate over decorum and who had more friends within the locker room.
Tsitsipas, certain that Kyrgios had intentionally made a large number of the match — and possibly steamed that Kyrgios had beaten him twice in a month’s time — said his fellow players needed to return together and set down rules that may rein in Kyrgios.
“It’s constant bullying, that’s what he does,” Tsitsipas said of Kyrgios. “He bullies the opponents. He was probably a bully at college himself. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like folks that put other people down. He has some good traits in his character, as well. But when he — he also has a really evil side to him, which if it’s exposed, it will possibly really do quite a lot of harm and bad to the people around him.”
Tsitsipas said he regretted swatting the ball into the gang, but was less remorseful about one other that he smacked across the online and into the scoreboard, earning some extent penalty.
“I used to be aiming for the body of my opponent, but I missed by so much, by so much,” he said. Then, he added, “Once I feel like other people disrespect me and don’t respect what I’m doing from the opposite side of the court, it’s absolute normal from my side to act and do something about it.”
Kyrgios was watching all of this on a television nearby. Minutes later, he sat down behind the microphone, wearing that black cap and a T-shirt featuring Dennis Rodman, the onetime N.B.A. rebel, and an enormous grin. Over again, Tsitsipas had created a situation where Kyrgios could get the higher of him, even allowing him the rare probability to take the high road and claim to be a sort of innocent.
“He was the one hitting balls at me,” he said of Tsitsipas. “He was the one which hit a spectator. He was the one which smacked it out of the stadium.”
He called Tsitsipas “soft” for letting Kyrgios’s conversations with tournament officials get to him.
“We’re not cut from the identical cloth,” he said of Tsitsipas. “I am going up against guys who’re true competitors. If he’s affected by that today, then that’s what’s holding him back, because someone can just try this and that’s going to throw him off his game like that. I just think it’s soft.”
Tsitsipas’s mother is a former pro and his father is a tennis coach who reared his sons on the tennis court from an early age. Kyrgios is of Greek and Malay descent, and his father painted houses for a living.
“I’m good within the locker room,” Kyrgios, now rolling, went on. “I’ve got many friends, simply to let you already know. I’m actually one of the vital liked. I’m set. He’s not liked.”
Then, one last dagger.
He said that he didn’t take the court to make a friend, to go with his opponents on their play, and that he had no idea what he had done to make Tsitsipas so upset that he barely shook his hand at the tip of the match.
Each time he has lost, Kyrgios said, even when he has been thrown out of matches, he has looked his opponent in the attention and told him he was the higher man.
“He wasn’t man enough to try this today,” he said.
The victory put Kyrgios into the round of 16, where he’ll play Brandon Nakashima of the USA on Monday, and two wins from a possible semifinal showdown on Centre Court with Nadal, assuming the 22-time Grand Slam event champion can keep winning as well. It might be the final word hero-villain confrontation, an ideal setting for all manner of potential Kyrgios explosions and boorishness, but additionally, as that Twitter feed put it, unmissable theater.
Nadal is understood to be one in every of the sport’s true gentlemen, a keeper of the unspoken codes between players. He has marveled at Kyrgios’s talent and questioned the luggage he brings to the court and the ordeals he often creates with umpires, especially when his probabilities of winning begin to slide away.
On Saturday night, after winning his own match and hearing in regards to the Kyrgios-Tsitsipas fracas, Nadal turned philosophical when asked when a player crossed the road, and whether Kyrgios goes too far. It’s, he said, a matter of conscience.
“I feel everyone has to go to bed with being calm with the things that you’ve got done,” Nadal said. “And if you happen to can’t sleep with calm and being satisfied with yourself, it’s because you probably did things that probably weren’t ethical.”
How does Kyrgios sleep? Only he knows.