Nick Kyrgios ruffles many feathers. He swears on court, bullies umpires, and is short with people in press conferences. He has also made it to the fourth round at Wimbledon for a second straight year, and a third time in the last five majors, by playing some superb tennis.
The 20-year-old Aussie triumphed in the ‘battle of the sleeves’ on Friday, out-acing No7 seed Milos Raonic on his way to 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 6-3 victory in the third round.
The pair, who also faced off at Wimbledon last year, both sport shooter sleeves on one of their arms and boast booming serves that are the envy of many on tour. Except Raonic’s is known to have the better serve.
But while the Canadian, who won their quarter-final here last year, had the better start, taking the opening set thanks to a double fault from his opponent, it was Kyrgios who stepped up and finished the match with an impressive 34 aces compared to just 18 from Raonic.
It was a symbolic outcome for Kyrgios, who has come back to Wimbledon as the No26 seed - after being ranked No144 in the world last year – and beaten the player who ended his campaign here 12 months ago. In the process he denied Raonic a chance to claim a 200th Tour-level match win.
“I feel as if physically, massive improvements (compared to last year). I wasn't struggling at all. If it was to go into a fifth, I would have still felt confident,” said Kyrgios, who next faces Frenchman Richard Gasquet.
“I didn't want to lose again, I lost to him (Raonic) twice at grand slams. I thought it was a good day. I played some really, really good tennis.”
Raonic, a semi-finalist here last year, was playing his second event back from foot surgery and admits he still feels pain in the aftermath.
“I'm just dealing with a lot of things. I still have some discomfort in my feet, so compensations and stuff like this just make any pain pretty much come up,” said the 24-year-old.
“The more I got through the match the more difficult it was. But all things said, that weren't going to stop me from trying.”
As always in Kyrgios’ matches, there was some drama. He showed up on court wearing the official white, green and purple Wimbledon headband, which ironically is too colorful for Wimbledon and is against the all-white dress code here. He was asked to turn it on the other side so it is just white.
During the match, he threw his racquet, face down, onto the ground in frustration and it bounced over the barriers into the crowd. Luckily no one was hurt and a lucky fan caught it. Kyrgios did receive a code violation though.
Kyrgios is used to making conversations with spectators and there one guy in the stands, donning a Batman t-shirt, who the Aussie says was particularly helpful to him throughout the encounter.
“I thought he was key in the match. He was actually saying some really good things at crucial moments. I think he helped,” said Kyrgios, who improved his win-loss record against top-10 opposition to 3-8.
“Before I was serving, he always said something like ‘send down a bullet’, or something like that. At that stage I'm thinking ‘let's try to make it a really good first serve here.’”
For the first time since 1999, five Australian have made it through to the third round at Wimbledon but of the three Aussies who were in action yesterday, it was only Kyrgios who survived with Sam Stosur losing in the women’s draw and Bernard Tomic losing 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to defending champion Novak Djokovic.
The world No1, who next faces South African huge-serve Kevin Anderson, did not drop serve throughout his contest with Tomic and fired 38 winners to a mere 12 unforced errors en route to his 91-minute victory on Centre Court.
“I think I executed tactically everything I intended before the match to move him around the court, mix up the pace, not really give him the same look,” said Djokovic, who has not lost to an Australian since 2006.
“I think overall I played a really, really good match.”
French Open champion Stan Wawrinka played a clinical match to dismiss Spain’s Fernando Verdasco 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 to set up a fourth round with Belgium’s David Goffin.
11th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov was the second 2014 semi-finalist to exit on Friday, falling to Gasquet 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.