Astonishing. Remarkable. Extraordinary. Insert your own superlative. Nick Kyrgios, aged 19, and ranked 144th, has reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals by stunning world No.1 Rafael Nadal in four sets on centre court in one of the great grand slam upsets.
The first man in a decade to reach the last eight here on debut served out the match to love, 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 with a 37th ace in two minutes short of two hours.
He dropped his racquet, acknowledged the players’ box and even danced a little jig. But it was not an hysterical celebration; more, from the Kyrgios perspective, almost an inevitable one.
The Australian is the first player ranked outside the top 100 to beat a world No.1 since 1992, and the first teenager to achieve the feat at a gland slam since Nadal himself beat Roger Federer at Roland Garros in 1995. he is the lowest-ranked player ever to beat Nadal at a major, and the most junior to beat the great Spaniard anywhere since No.690 Joachim Johansson in Stockholm in 2006.
Kyrgios dropped his magnificent serve just once, when he allowed Nadal to level at one-set all, but although he only broke once, too, in the fourth set, it was enough. Two tiebreaks took care of the rest, less than a week after he was spared a second round exit with a successful Hawk-eye challenge of a double-fault called on the fifth of the nine match points he saved against Richard Gasquet.
“I think I was in the zone out there,’’ said Kyrgios, who must somehow back-up on Wednesday against Canadian eighth seed - and another monster server - Milos Raonic. ‘I played some incredible tennis. I was struggling a little bit on return, but I worked my way into it and got that break in the fourth set.’’
The constants were his serving, and incredible self-belief. “You have to believe that you can win the match from the start, and I definitely thought that.’’ Afterwards, he said he was unsure what to do. “Just so many emotions.’’
Having quipped pre-match that he and Nadal shared 14 grand slams between them, if there is to be a 15th this week then it can now only be won by the fearless young man from Canberra. Few who witnessed what Kyrgios brought to his debut match on centre court would have doubted they were watching a potential future champion, but the speed of his arrival has just accelerated, wildly.
Game and confidence-wise, Kyrgios has it all. He played a remarkable first set and some extraordinary tennis for much of the next three against one of the sport’s most relentless competitors. The future is so bright as to be almost blinding.
Beforehand, Kyrgios said he would play his game, have fun, go for his shots. All of it eventuated, and then some, as a style of tennis described by former top-tenner Peter McNamara as “Bang, boom-boom-boom,’’ followed exactly that template in the opening few games, starting with a 204mph ace. Nerves? What nerves?
The former basketballer was belting his serve and crushing his forehand with his trademark easy power, appearing not to have a worry in the world. Incredibly, Nadal almost seemed to have nothing to trouble the teenager, unable to make an impact on the return, winning just three points on the Kyrgios serve for the set, and nor could he wear down his free-hitting opponent from the baseline.
Indeed, Kyrgios was the better player early, holding a set point just before a tiebreak he led 4-0 and closed 7-5 with an ace, claiming 43 points to 36, and all 19 points on his untouchable first serve. Could he sustain it? Superman would have struggled. But call this rising superstar what you will.
Somewhat incredulously, John McEnroe declared in the commentary box after Kyrgios had earned a break point for a second consecutive Nadal service game that “he looks like he expects to win this!’’. A game or two later, this: “It’s nice to see a young guy that they talk about being the real deal. You’re asking who are the next guys? You’re looking at one.’’ later: “This crowd is witnessing the birth of a new star.’’
After those first 48 minutes, Nadal immediately scuttled off for a long bathroom break, but his most urgent need was to regroup. It had been an astonishing start from the player still ranked 144th, for Kyrgios might have been playing against a world-beater, but it was the Australian who was playing like one.
Kyrgios was enjoying himself, skipping along the baseline after one audacious return winner, smiling at his box as he pranced to his chair after consecutive aces, 10 and 11, late in the first set. At 3-4, 0-40 in the second, he played a between-the-legs winner that Tim Henman described as the shot of the year - then raised his arms and grinned, loving it. How hard did you say this centre court grand slam caper was?
The party didn’t end immediately, but, gradually, the other, more celebrated guest, started to make his presence felt. Nadal’s service games were getting quicker, and easier, and Kyrgios’ slightly less emphatic.
The Spaniard finally broke through in the 12th game, as Kyrgios served to try to force a tiebreak. Two unforced backhand errors set the tone, and although the first set point was saved with an audacious ace that kissed the sideline, the second was lost with a netted forehand, and Nadal let rip with a heartfelt ‘’Vamos’’.
Kyrgios is the 1st teenager to beat a world #1 at a Grand Slam since Nadal def Federer at 2005 French Open. Congrats Nick. Stunning effort.— Darren Cahill (@darren_cahill) July 1, 2014
He knew how important that set was, because it was hard not to think that, from there, he would probably win it in four sets. Not easily, but, well, probably. Except that Kyrgios defied the logical script yet again, as he had when over-running Gasquet from 0-2 down, and from all those match points down.
The Australian had come too far not to push as far as he could possibly take it, and if he was going down, it would have to be in five. Slightly against the run of play, he saved a set point at 5-6 in the third set with a forehand winner, and then extended a fine tiebreak record that is already 11-6 at this infant stage of his senior career.
His only break of the three hours came for 3-1 in the fourth set, but he did not blink as he coolly served his way into the quarter-finals. Now it is about recovery, although Kyrgios vowed just to enjoy the moment, and the night, before worrying about Raonic on Wednesday.
This was too special, too incredible. Really, any superlative will do.