Nick Kyrgios: The man kicking up a storm for new Aussie generation at Wimbledon

Kyrgios had called said he called himself 'dirty scum' and was involved in a five minute spat with the umpire

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The Independent Online

No one needs reminding that they will be dictating the sporting narrative deep into this summer, long after the Wimbledon festival has packed up and gone, though it is the rediscovery of a different type of turf – the grass courts - which absorbs and fascinates Australians the most.

That country’s golden decades as a part of the tennis establishment, claiming at least one major every year between 1946 and 1973 through the collective endeavours of Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe and Evonne Goolagong – their last Wimbledon women’s singles champion a distant 35 years ago – have given way in recent years to the tragicomic sight of that raucous Aussie army following Lleyton Hewitt around.

Hewitt bowed out of this place for the last time on Monday – fittingly enough, after another of those five-set epics with which he has measured out his career as one of the greatest practitioners of the grass-court game. But the progress of those he leaves behind reinforces the sense that there are many to carry Australia’s torch on.

Nick Kyrgios, foremost among them, preceded Hewitt on to the grass of Court Two, which – somehow emblematic of a country still on the fringes of the elite – seemed to have been designated Australia’s space. He arrived there wearing pink Beats headphones and he was still creating distractions at the end of a fractious press conference three hours later.

The 20-year-old scowled and snapped at the temerity of the question about who he had been describing as “dirty scum” under his breath amid five minutes of fury over a contested line call. “Myself” he said, or words to such effect, and he curled his lip when someone refused to take that proposition at face value. “Why are you so caught up about the question?” he asked. He had insulted himself “cause I can,” was his final word on the matter.

“He’ll need a little bit more up here but if he finds it he’ll be huge,” The Independent’s Nick Bollettieri said, tapping his head, when we talked about Kyrgios a little later and there was certainly something unfathomable about the way the red mist fell towards the end of a game he was cruising through in three sets. “I’ve been absolutely hung on that point,” Kyrgios muttered, after the call in question. “Dirty scum. Unbelievable.”

But the overriding sense was that Kyrgios can, indeed, be as big a force in tennis as his 6ft 5in frame. It was not just the way he tore so viscerally at the Argentine Diego Schwartzman – going a set up inside 17 minutes – which suggested we were looking at one of this year’s Wimbledon stories. He is a kaleidoscope of colour, too, and one of his most distinctive characteristics, besides a powerful backhand and an improbably fine touch at the net for someone of his size, is a tendency to praise the opposition. “Yep. Serve,” he offered Schwartzman in the depths of the third-set tiebreak. “Yep. Good point,” and “Yeah man,” tapping his racket strings in appreciation. Not quite what Warney would prescribe.

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2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt is applauded off after making his final appearance at the tournament

Energy like this sustains a sport and it is by no accident that Australia have found and developed him. The country discovered a decade ago that it had grown complacent with success, failing to keep pace with the new, global game which was unearthing winners everywhere. Its vast states were working in uneven, disconnected ways on player development.  So a national academy system was introduced, talent identification became a part of the vocabulary, just like video performance analysis – virtually unknown in the Australian set-up. 

Bollettieri is not the only one who sees Kyrgios – who was ranked 114th in the world when he demolished Rafael Nadal in four sets to reach the quarters here last year – as capable of shattering the hegemony of the men’s big four. But some, including coaches Fred Stolle and Günter Bresnik, view 19-year old Thanasi Kokkinakis, another product of the new approach, as an even better prospect.

Hopes Kokkinakis might upset Argentine 24th seed Leonardo Mayer proved unfounded yesterday as he lost in three sets, still feeling the effects of a sickness bug. But he and Kyrgios reflect the ethnic diversity Australia is now drawing on. Kyrgios is the son of a Greek-Australian father and Malaysian mother. Kokkinakis was born in the southern Australian city of Adelaide to parents of Greek origin. The presence of these two has breathed new life into another prodigious young talent – 22-year-old Bernard Tomic, ranked three places higher that Kyrgios at 26, having come through double hip surgery. Tomic progressed yesterday, beating Jan-Lennard Struff in five sets.

Hewitt reflected that those who follow him will be different. “They have a lot more firepower than I had,” he said of the next generation. “They can rely on finishing points quickly and big serves when they need to.”

 We will know in time if they possess the drive Hewitt had. Kyrgios, who has just sacked his coach, insisted it had been the quality of the cohort – rather than the overhaul of the Australian game – which had delivered so many players into contention. “I’ve known Thanasi and those guys for a long time. We grew up together.” And he repeated what he told The Independent last week: that he enjoys basketball more than his own sport. You won’t find many who wear the Baggy Green admitting to that.

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