Hear that noise? It’s the sound of a teenager tearing down the gates of Wimbledon. Nick Kyrgios, a 19-year-old wild card from Australia, trampled all over world No 1 Rafael Nadal to take his place in the quarter-finals with one of the most astonishing displays ever witnessed on Centre Court.
Nadal, the most flamboyant player of his era, the biggest ticket-seller in the game, was sent packing with an ace followed by an impromptu jig in the manner of Daniel Sturridge celebrating a 20-yarder in a World Cup final, if your imagination stretches that far. Off with you, Rafa, this is my place now was the sentiment conveyed by his epic 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 victory.
There are few sights in sport as invigorating as that big bang moment when tomorrow’s flashing blade comes raging into view. Mindful that there will be many reading this who have yet to clap eyes on the kid from Canberra, transport yourself at some bacchanal temple of adolescent congress in Ibiza, the place is rocking and up on the decks is the dude of the hour setting fire to the night, bling attached at the neck and ear and the mark of Zorro razored into his shaven head.
This was pretty much how it was on Centre Court. He didn’t have to win on his first visit here to make an impact. It was enough that he should walk into Rafa’s house, help himself to a beer, and skip all over the furniture. Thirty-seven aces, trick shots through the legs, exaggerated reactions to key points, Kyrgios gave it the full monty with attitude.
As he often does, John McEnroe put it best when he observed at the conclusion of one point that Kyrgios looked as though he might jump clean out of his pants. The first set was his on a tie-break. Nadal celebrated so loud at the conclusion of the second you knew it was mixed with relief at avoiding a second shoot-out, which was just one-point away in the only service game surrendered by Kyrgios to bring the scores level.
As the match wore on Nadal showed signs of adapting without ever convincing he had the kid’s measure. There was little he could do against the Kyrgios serve, save for hanging on and hoping for the best. On serve he was handed a time penalty during the third set for overdoing the bounces and the twitches.
In the stands the Kyrgios fan club, dressed in t-shirts of Australian gold, would rise episodically to chirrup their support. “Let’s go Nicky, let’s go!” Beyond that patriotic fringe, there were thousands in the audience flocking to his side, particularly those who like to wear their lids on backwards.
A trawl through his school reports reveal an exceptional performer coming through the ranks with a clutch of junior titles, including the Australian and French Open junior crowns. He also won the Wimbledon doubles en route to the world No 1 junior ranking. But in terms of experience convention tells us Kyrgios was way out of his depth in this company.
Or should have been. Convention has no hold on tyros like this fellow. There is no mould to contain them, save for the ones they create themselves. Nadal was stretched to the edge of tolerance in the third set, losing it as he did the first by way of tie break. Faced by an opponent without prior experience of the Nadal hammer, the world No 1 was in new territory, too.
The storm gathered greater force in the fourth, Kyrgios breaking Nadal in the sixth game to lead 4-2. From there he needed only to serve out his games to book a match today with the big-hitting Milos Raonic of Canada.
Afterwards the words came out like his serves, in torrents. “That’s the biggest win of my career, not one I shall ever forget. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I was in the zone out there. I served at a good level. He was hitting some incredible shots, too. You have to believe you can win and I did that. I didn’t know what to do at the end. I turned to those supporting me and chucked in a dance. I was overwhelmed with every feeling.”
Kyrgios joked beforehand that between them he and Nadal had 14 Grand Slam titles. The only dissenting voice was his mother’s, who suggested the night before that Nadal might be too good. “I haven’t spoken to her yet. I’ll just send her a smiley face.”
Nadal was, as ever, a gentleman in defeat. “When you have an opponent who serves that big you are in trouble. I didn’t play really bad. That’s the game on this surface. In the second and third sets I was better than him but was not able to convert the opportunities. And for the rest he was better than me. I was not able to read his serve all match. In the tie breaks that is an advantage.
“Sport is mental in many parts. Everything is a little easier when you are arriving. Everything is new, nothing to lose. You see only the good things in your game. We will see in the future if he is able to continue like this. For now it is not possible to say, but I wish him all the best. I congratulate him. I tried my best as I always do. That’s sport. And now for me it’s the beach.”