Youth will be served when Milos Raonic, 24, and Nick Kyrgios, 20, meet in a third-round match at Wimbledon on Friday.
Raonic, seeded No. 7, defeated Tommy Haas 6-0, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-6(4) on Wednesday to set up a re-match of last year’s quarter-final against the 26th-seeded Kyrgios, who advanced with a 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-4 win over Juan Monaco.
On that previous occasion, Raonic prevailed 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(4) over the Aussie who had just upset Rafael Nadal for his first career breakthrough victory.
On Wednesday, Raonic started like a whirlwind against a sketchy Haas – winning 12 of the first 13 points on his way to a 3-0 lead and an eventual bagel 6-0 set in 18 minutes.
It was more of the same in the second set as Raonic hit big with his serve – including a 145 mph ace that was the third-fastest serve in Wimbledon history behind Taylor Dent (148 mph in 2010) and Andy Roddick (146 mph in 2004) – and exploded enough service returns to break Haas five times over the first two sets.
The German, a sage 37 years old, tightened his game in the third set to take the tiebreak on his third set point.
He still did not break his opponent’s serve in the match, with Raonic finally taking the match in the fourth-set tiebreak when, trailing 6-5, and having already saved five match points, Haas hit a forehand approach shot straight down the middle and watched as Raonic finished with a flourish – cleanly knocking a backhand pass by him.
“It’s been a while since I faced a serve like that,” Haas said about Raonic who hit 29 aces and won 81 per cent of first-serve points. “The last time was when I faced him in the (2013) San Jose final. I felt like even there I was playing actually some good tennis and I didn’t have a chance.”
Haas, who has undergone four surgeries on his right shoulder later revealed a rather unlikely detail when he said, “it was not the best start for me. Believe it or not, I put some kinesio tape on my shoulder to keep everything back and I think it was too strong so I couldn’t really reach for my serve in the beginning. I didn’t figure that out until the beginning of the second set.”
The third and fourth sets were competitive with Haas having his only three break points of the match in the third set.
Raonic was generous in his praise of the stylish German, at 37 the oldest man in the singles event. “It’s a testament to the passion he has for the game and the kind of work ethic and resilience he has,” he said about Haas.
Now Raonic will be focused on Kyrgios, who also won 81 per cent of his first serve points on Wednesday, to go along with 16 aces.
About what he has to do against Raonic, it certainly wasn’t rocket science when Kyrgios noted, “obviously I’ve got to look after my serve. I don’t want him breaking me too many times.”
Raonic, playing his fifth Wimbledon, has evolved his own serving. “I’m serving differently than I did before,” he said. “Before I thought I could sort of get away with sort of just throwing it down because it’s grass and sort of slide it away from the other guy. Then last year I learned quite a bit about how important it is to keep going for it full out all the time – not slowing it down to sort of try and be fancy and hit the spots a bit more. (Just) keep the same efficiency I use on clay and hard courts.”
Kyrgios has been warring with the Australian media of late – calling one veteran reporter “an idiot” on Twitter – and he was criticized last week for being immature by new Tennis Australia performance boss Patrick Rafter.
He is infamous for his incessant F-bombs on court and got into it with the umpire on Wednesday when a linesperson reported on his foul language.
When Raonic was asked about the histrionics that he may encounter coming from the other end of the court on Friday, he said bluntly, “my job is only myself. That’s my first job. I need to take care of myself. All those things are out of my control.”
Asked to recall the Wimbledon match-up with Kyrgios a year ago, he said, “I felt that the thing that helped me the most was my calm demeanour. My attitude was sort of what helped me get over that hump and sort of clear my way through that match.”
The two players enter the match with physical issues that nonetheless don’t appear likely to be a factor in the match.
Kyrgios (above practicing last week) said he has been bothered by a sinus infection the past couple of weeks. “It’s going to go away eventually,” he said, “but it’s pretty annoying at the start of matches.”
He claimed he began getting blurry vision in the match against Monaco.
When confronted by a British reporter at his media conference about his bad language and whether he was aware of it, he replied sarcastically, “I’m aware of what I’m saying. I’m in pain and I’m playing a match at Wimbledon second round – a bit of stress out there.”
Raonic didn’t take the bait when asked if he was the solid citizen type juxtaposed with Kyrgios’ wild child, simply replying, “I really couldn’t care less. My job is to go out there and win a tennis match.”
There remain some after-effects of his May 13 surgery for Morton’s Neuroma – a swelling of nerve tissue in the foot near the toes. “I have discomfort, but normal post-surgery discomfort – nothing out of the ordinary,” Raonic said. He’s not taking any kind of painkillers.
So the stage is set for Generation Next on Friday. Raonic acknowledged that Kyrgios has evolved into what he called “playing well and doing consistently well in big moments.”
Aside from the win over Nadal a year ago, Kyrgios, despite little preparation because of a back problem, rode a rocky road to the quarter-finals of the 2015 Australian Open and then completed the Nadal-Roger Federer double by knocking off the great Swiss 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 7-6(12) on clay in Madrid in May.
So Raonic – Kyrgios is definitely set as a popcorn match. Whether it turns out to be a real cracker remains to be seen.
The alleyways between the outside courts were jammed early on Wednesday, including around Court 6 where No. 11 seeds Daniel Nestor and partner Leander Paes beat the Serbian pairing of Dusan Lajovic and Viktor Troicki 6-3, 6-4, 7-5.
Nestor is always vulnerable on hot, humid days and it was not surprising that his first comment on his side’s victory related to the weather. “The most important thing in the match was the cloud cover because during warm-up this morning it was pretty tough,” he said. “I was fortunate that it was a little cooler than I anticipated.”
About the first-round win, Nestor summed up, “I thought we played pretty solid – maybe a little bit shaky at the start. I didn’t play a very good game to lose Leander’s serve but after that I thought we played pretty well.
“Today was more about surviving for me to just get through the match and somehow win. I’m not used to these conditions here (a London record high of 35 degrees on the day). It was more about the conditions than anything else.”
In the second round, Nestor/Paes will face the winner of James Ward and Matthew Ebden v. Teymuraz Gabashvili and Yen-Hsun Lu.
A two-time Wimbledon champion with Nenad Zimonjic, Nestor was asked about the perks he has at the All England Club as a result of those victories. “We’re in the No. 1 locker room which was surprising because it’s usually only for the top four seeds,” he said. “They gave us the better locker room, which is nice. That’s where the big boys hang out.”
Los Angeles Times writer Bill Dwyre was in the media conference and asked Nestor the “R” (retirement) question. “I’d like to play through next year considering it’s an Olympic year and an opportunity to play with Vasek (Pospisil) on the big stage,” Nestor said. “We’re doing well in Davis Cup so… This year has been tough but that’s my goal. If my ranking’s dropping, we’ll see what happens.
“It’s an opportunity to win a medal, which doesn’t come around every day. Of course, it’s up to Vasek too, he might want to play with Milos. There are a lot of factors right now.”
Finally, he was asked about playing with Paes, who joined him as a 42-year-old when he had his birthday two weeks ago. The Indian is one of the most electrifying artists and improvisers in tennis – doubles or singles. “I have to keep reminding myself,” Nestor said about Paes’ skills, “because in practice he likes to go a little bit slower and likes do his own thing. Then in matches he turns it up a notch. The shots that he comes up with are amazing. He really is a true shotmaker.”
Vasek Pospisil will try to equal his best Grand Slam result (2014-15 Australian Open third rounds) when he plays 30th seeded Fabio Fognini in the second match on Court 12 (about 8 p.m. EDT in Canada) on Thursday.
It will be a first meeting for the two and Pospisil will be hoping to be over his cramping issues during his five-set first-round win over qualifier Vincent Millot of France.
Talking to an Italian journalist, I was told that Fognini, one of the more combustible players on the tour, has been giving the media in his country a hard time because they think he has a good chance to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon – his best finishes in six tries at the All England Club have been third rounds in 2014 and 2010.
Fognini, 28, has been saying that he has been calmer on court recently, so that inspired Italian reporters to remind him that his new incarnation has not resulted in improved results. Since beating Rafael Nadal in the round-of-16 in Barcelona in May, his record is a modest 5-5.
Also, apparently according to my source, Fognini and his fellow-player girlfriend, Flavia Pennetta, 33, are planning to get married next year.
The winner of the Pospisil – Fognini match will play either James Ward of Britain or Jiri Vesely of Czech Republic in Saturday’s third round.
Every morning at 10:30 a.m., patrons with grounds passes are allowed to roam free inside the grounds of the All England Club. About five minutes before they’re permitted to walk (note that running is strictly prohibited) to the courts featuring their favourite players, a very proper gentleman (above) addresses them.
On Wednesday, after welcoming the swarming fans in English (and French), he finished with, “and finally, may the players who you are cheering for win their matches.”
In front in the photo above are the yellow-garbed members of the Aussie “Fanatics” cheer squad who were either headed for Court 12 to see Sam Stosur or Court 18 for Bernard Tomic.