For all of the drama that forever surrounds Nick Kyrgios, there has been one undeniable constant of his season so far – his tennis. Quietly, Kyrgios is playing some of the best tennis of his life and, even though he has competed sparingly, almost every time he has taken to the court this year his level has been high. As a consequence, he has put himself in the position for the deep grand slam run that has evaded him so far in his career.
But when so much toxicity constantly surrounds him, talking only about Kyrgios’ tennis can sometimes seem like the most difficult task in the world. In a contest that lived up to all of the anticipation, from gripping, quality tennis to farcical, unhinged chaos, Kyrgios inserted himself deep into Stefanos Tsitsipas’s psyche and eventually emerged as a victor, defeating Tsitsipas, the No 4 seed, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-3 7-6 (7) to reach the fourth round of Wimbledon.
Afterwards, Tsitsipas called Kyrgios a bully and suggested that the tour should act to stop his on-court antics: “It’s constant bullying, that’s what he does. He bullies the opponents. He was probably a bully at school himself. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like people that put other people down. He has some good traits in his character, as well. But he also has a very evil side to him.”
Having declared his love for Tsitsipas in his on-court interview, Kyrgios’ tone changed upon being read Tsitsipas’ comments in his press conference. “I would be pretty upset if I lost to someone two weeks in a row, as well. Maybe he should figure out how to beat me a couple more times first and then get to that.”
Throughout the first set, Kyrgios was clearly the better player, but Tsitsipas kept his head down and focused only on himself, stealing the tie-break at the close. It is fair to say that the calmness and composure did not last very long.
From the beginning, Kyrgios argued with the umpire, Damien Dumusois, about line calls. He ranted at the change of ends. He called people he disagreed with stupid. But his tennis was also right there – he took the second set with a moment of genius, deflecting Tsitsipas’s smash for a forehand passing shot winner.
As that set fell away from him, Tsitsipas erupted. He fired a shot into the lower section of the crowd, just below his player’s box, and he was extremely fortunate not to strike anyone. Outraged by Tsitsipas receiving only a code violation, Kyrgios spent his time between sets shouting loudly at the umpire, the supervisor and anyone who would listen, attempting to get Tsitsipas defaulted from the match. “You can’t hit a ball into the crowd, and hit someone, and not get defaulted,” he barked. As Kyrgios hollered, Tsitsipas told the umpire that his opponent had “zero respect”.
With the match level and Kyrgios in his head, Tsitsipas’ mind only descended further into madness. At 3-1, 40-0 Kyrgios threw in an underarm serve, which Tsitsipas responded to by sprinting up to the ball and slapping it high at the back fence. As Kyrgios smirked, Tsitsipas received a code violation and point penalty. Later in the set, Tsitsipas twice slapped the ball as hard as possible at Kyrgios as he stood at the net, barely missing him.
The toxicity threatened to derail the match, yet the tennis still delivered. After looking as if he had mentally checked out of the match, Tsitsipas admirably fought, saving four break points in the opening game of the fourth set, then continually pressuring Kyrgios on serve. After spectacularly saving triple break point at 3-4, Kyrgios was utterly nerveless deep in the fourth set tie-break. He demolished a series of forehands to bring up match point, then finished with a delicate drop shot.
The pair briefly shook hands, but Tsitsipas said that his handshake was only an acknowledgment of Kyrgios’ tennis: “Attitude-wise, if there was a handshake for that, I would definitely be walking away from it, and that’s how it is. It’s not acceptable in any way.”
His comments did not sit well with Kyrgios, who was adamant that Tsitsipas was far more badly behaved than him: “I just think he’s making that match about me, like he’s got some serious issues, like serious. I’m good in the locker room. I’ve got many friends, just to let you know. I’m actually one of the most liked. I’m set. He’s not liked. Let’s just put that there,” he said.
Beyond all of that messiness, there is one clear consequence. Kyrgios left No 1 Court with a monumental win that has afforded him one of the biggest opportunities of his career. He will now face Brandon Nakashima for a spot in his first Wimbledon quarter-final since his breakout run in 2014. The highest seed left in his section of the draw is Alex de Minaur, the 19th seed, and none of the remaining players there have made a grand slam semi-final. Kyrgios is clearly the favourite.
Such opportunities do not come often. It remains to be seen if he will continue this progress or whether the chaos he creates will eventually envelop him, too.