WIMBLEDON — Ace machine, meet the great returner – arguably the best the men’s game has ever seen.
Nick Kyrgios’ endgame is the Wimbledon title, a first-ever grand slam trophy now within his grasp, and to do so his mission will be to hit the ball hard and hope it doesn’t come back.
Novak Djokovic meanwhile, has already walked the walk at SW19, winning six of his seven Wimbledon finals and attempt on making that seven from eight.
The expectations were that the Serbian would reach the end, but until the draw started opening up few really believed Kyrgios would make it all the way – including himself.
“I never thought I’d be here at all, to be brutally honest with you,” Kyrgios said. “I feel like it’s the pinnacle of tennis. Once you are able to raise a grand slam trophy, I mean… what else is there to achieve?”
Kyrgios last played Djokovic in 2017, the year of their only two meetings to date. Kyrgios won them both, and despite avoiding each other on the court since, there was no love lost off it.
In 2019 Kyrgios said Djokovic had a “sick obsession with wanting to be liked”, calling him a “champion of the sport” but also “cringeworthy”, and adding he would never view the Serbian as the best, “simply because, I’ ve played him twice and I’m sorry, but if you can’t beat me, you’re not the greatest of all time”.
How to watch Djokovic vs Kyrgios in UK
- Date: Sunday 10 July
- Time: 2pm
- TV: BBC One
- Livestream: BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport website
Kyrgios then labeled Djokovic a “bonehead” when the latter’s Adria Tour ended in a spate of Covid cases for players in 2020, Djokovic included.
More recently, however, Kyrgios publicly backed Djokovic during the Australian Open saga that resulted in the Serbian getting deported, calling Australia’s handling of the situation “really bad” and urging those posting memes to “do better”.
The result? A “bromance”, in Kyrgios’ words, with the pair even exchanging messages in the second week of Wimbledon.
“We definitely have a bit of a bromance now, which is weird,” Kyrgios added. “Everyone knows there was no love lost for a while, I think it was healthy for the sport. Every time we played each other, there was hype around it. It was interesting for the media, the people watching, all that.
“I felt like I was almost the only player to stand up for him with all that drama at the Australian Open. I feel like that’s where respect is kind of earned. Not on the tennis court, but I feel like when a real life crisis is happening and someone stands up for you…
“We actually message each other on DMs in Instagram now. It’s real weird. Earlier in the week, he was like, ‘Hopefully I’ll see you Sunday’.”
Beating Djokovic on grass, at a tournament where he has not lost since 2017, poses a mighty challenge for Kyrgios, but he will hope his old faithful is firing on Sunday.
Kyrgios has sent down a tournament-high 120 aces, averaging 24 per match, while he is one of a handful of players where more than half of their first serves in are unreturned.
He is also tied-seventh for first serves in, at 70 per cent, and has saved 28 out of 34 break points faced – resulting in him holding 94 per cent (95 out of 101) of his service games.
Numbers. So many numbers. They are impressive, but when your opponent is Djokovic and the stage is a grand-slam final, they are merely recent statistics that may have no bearing on Sunday’s outcome.
Nevertheless, it could be the tale of the match. Kyrgios will need to maintain this service level for as long as it takes, and keep the rallies as short as possible. The longer they get, the more inclined he is to lose the point.
With a view to taking his first-ever set off Kyrgios, Djokovic predicts a fiery battle on Sunday.
“The job is not finished,” Djokovic said on court after beating Cameron Norrie in four sets. “One thing is for sure there are going to be a lot of fireworks emotionally from both.
“It’s going to be his first grand slam final. Obviously he’s very excited and he doesn’t have much to lose.
“He’s playing so freely. He has one of the biggest serves in the game. We haven’t played for some time.
“I’ve never won a set off him. Hopefully it can be different this time. It’s another final for me at Wimbledon so hopefully the experience can work in my favour.”
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