Nick Kyrgios is a special kind of cat and Milos Raonic got caught in his claws in their third-round match at Wimbledon on Friday.
The 20-year-old Aussie beat Raonic 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(3), 6-3 in a match that had a dramatic momentum shift late in the second set.
Raonic had been playing superb tennis up until 4-all in that set.
In fact, in my notebook I wrote about how his performance fitted into the spectrum of his career: “one of the most complete matches by Milos so far.” But I added at the end of that – “8th game 2nd set.”
Knowing Kyrgios is a spectacularly unpredictable player, capable of taking over a match in a heartbeat, I was aware that things could change. But Raonic had been really solid – serving so well that Kyrgios spent a lot of time gesticulating his frustration, as well as going big on service returns and repeatedly fooling Kyrgios by hitting inside/in forehands when the Aussie was expecting the more conventional inside/out direction to his backhand.
It’s probably still a mystery how the match swung so drastically in Kyrgios’s favour but it certainly started when he held his first three break points of the match with Raonic serving at 4-all in the second set.
He set up the first break point in a game that Raonic had led 40-love, with a ridiculously angled backhand pass. He celebrated his master stroke with a big hand gesture, which in hindsight was probably the beginning of him finding his mojo, his inspiration, his ability to dial in his game and hit great shot after great shot.
Raonic fended off the break points with aggressive, poised shot-making but two games later, at 5-all, he opened the door with a double fault on the first point and Kyrgios capitalized, winning two of the three more points he needed to break – wrapped around a Raonic forehand error into the net – with huge forehand, cross-court passing shots.
That obviously energized the fiery Aussie, who carries on a running dialogue with himself between points, and he was a completely different player over the final two sets. There is no more dramatic illustration of that than the fact that he ‘out-aced’ Raonic by a total of 18-6 in the third and fourth sets. They were sets in which he made rally after rally into the whirling dervish tennis he is capable of playing, especially at big-occasion Grand Slam tournaments.
From a player who hit a wild second serve fault to lose the first set, Kyrgios zoned in, feeding off a vocal group of 12 Aussie supporters – the Fanatics – seated in the first row at the south end of the court.
Raonic, on the other hand, struggled increasingly as the match wore on. He would later admit that the foot surgery – a Morton’s Neuroma nerve condition in his right foot – he had on May 13 is still not fully right. On Wednesday after beating Tommy Haas, he had mentioned that the foot was still giving him pain.
After the Kyrgios match, he admitted that things were worse, that the foot issue had led to a litany of other ailments. “There wasn’t a place it wasn’t,” was his answer to a question about whether his hip was also affected by the hurting foot. “It sort of goes segmented – first ankle and then the hip and then the back. Then when those things aren’t working, you just put too much pressure on your shoulder and then your shoulder hurts.”
Raonic’s woes aside, it was a bravado display by Kyrgios, who is certainly a unique, charismatic player and – raw talent considered – the best of the young 20-and-under generation.
He found sensational angles for passing shots, his serve – he ended up with 34 aces to just 18 for Raonic – turned into an ace-machine and he just carried the aura of a cocksure competitor who was not going to lose after the second set.
Kyrgios (above returning from his victory) is also a shameless hot dog – hitting between-the-legs shots for no reason other than showing off as if he was on the practice court, as well as mugging and carrying on conversations with the crowd.
He did something much more serious in the ninth game of the second set after Raonic struck a beauty backhand passing shot down-the-line. He slammed down his racquet and it catapulted into the crowd behind the court and was caught by a fan.
Had that racquet injured someone, Kyrgios could have been defaulted right there on the spot – maybe even if it had not struck someone. As it was he got off with a warning from umpire Manuel Messina of San Marino.
“I threw it face down, it bounced over the fence,” Kyrgios said casually later. “I don’t want to hurt anyone. It was a good catch by the fan anyway.”
While Kyrgios goes on to play Richard Gasquet in the round-of-16 (he saved nine match points in a Wimbledon win over the Frenchman a year ago), Raonic gets some time off to heal before the Davis Cup World Group quarter-final in Ostend, Belgium, in two weeks.
He made his return after his surgery at Queen’s Club two weeks ago – beating James Ward and Gasquet before losing in three close sets to Gilles Simon. Questioned as to whether Queen’s Club had been too soon in his recovery from the surgery and to whether Nottingham the following week might have been a better option, he said, “if I finished Nottingham the same way I finished Queen’s on Friday (June 19th), and had to play on Monday, I wouldn’t have been feeling that great.”
Raonic was very clear that he intends to be ready for Davis Cup. “It’s a big goal,” he said about the 2015 competition. “It’s a great opportunity for us. I think the guys are playing well. Vasek is having a great week here. Daniel is playing better and better. I’m sort of finding myself and time is just a bonus for my body.
“I think we’re all in a great situation, and not just for the upcoming tie, but the whole year is a great opportunity.”
A victory in Belgium would lead to a home tie from September 18-20, the week after the US Open, against either Argentina or Serbia.
V. Pospisil v. J. Ward
Vasek Pospisil will play James Ward of Britain in No. 1 Court on Saturday for a spot in Monday’s round-of-16.
It’s a huge opportunity for the 25-year-old from Vancouver. Ward, 28 and ranked No. 111, had never earned a spot inside the Top 100 until he won his second round on Thursday over Jiri Vesely of Czech Republic.
That was a very patchy affair with a lot of bad tennis played in the first two sets of the Briton’s 6-2, 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3 victory.
Pospisil was more impressive in ousting No. 28-ranked Fabio Fognini and definitely goes in as the favourite with his current No. 56 ranking.
Ward had not even played an ATP 1000 event until Indian Wells in 2014 and was probably best known for being a distinct No. 2 Briton behind Andy Murray.
His one shining moment was a Davis Cup win (from two sets down) over Sam Querrey when the Brits upset the Americans in San Diego in February 2014.
The son of a London taxi driver, Ward is at his best on grass so Pospisil will have to be wary.
It was interesting to hear the respective players talk about their personal relationship. “I know him pretty well,” Ward said about Pospisil. “He’s a good friend of mine actually. We spent a lot of time together.”
Pospisil, on the other hand, didn’t seem to feel they were quite so chummy. “I know him just about as well as any other player, not more than the average,” he said. “I’ve just played him the one time (a semifinal loss in a Challenger event in Vancouver in 2011). I know his strengths and his weaknesses, so I’ll try and exploit those.”
Ward, who is in Wimbledon thanks to a wild card, was pleased to have finally made the third round in his seventh try at Wimbledon.
“Into the third round at Wimbledon,” he said on Thursday, “I can’t ask for anything more at the moment.”
Pospisil’s coach Fred Fontang took a cautious approach to this golden opportunity for his player.
“It’s not that easy against James Ward,” said the 45-year-old Frenchman. “First off he’s a wild card and Vasek will be in the position of being more of the favourite. Ward plays well on grass, understands grass courts and feels good at home.
“There are a couple of tactical things – I saw his match. He’s a player I’ve seen play in a Challenger in Vancouver. And I’ll watch him on video so we’ll have a special tactical plan for playing him.”
Fontang also mentioned that Pospisil’s consulting a notebook with reminders in it during matches is a recent development.
On Monday, the winner of Pospisil –Ward will play whoever emerges from the Dustin Brown – Viktor Troicki third-rounder on Saturday for a spot in the quarter-finals, likely against No. 3 seed Andy Murray.
Pospisil and Sock roll
The defending Wimbledon doubles champions, Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock, are into the third round after a 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(5) victory over American Eric Butorac and Colin Fleming of Britain on Friday.
The match was on Court 17, one of the more obscure venues on the grounds with permanent seating for only 318.
It was somewhat surprising that the popular duo didn’t draw more spectators but the match was played early in the afternoon at the same time as Milos Raonic was on No. 2 Court versus Nick Kyrgios in singles.
Pospisil was pleased with the result, particularly with the way it all worked out. “It was just perfect going into tomorrow (singles)” he said. “It was straight sets – almost like a practice.”
Sock, playing with a fractured left middle figure, did not seen too inconvenienced. “He played great,” was Pospisil’s succinct summary of his partner’s performance.
Next for the No. 3 seeds will be the No. 13-seeded pairing of Brit Jamie Murray and John Peers of Australia.
In a mixed doubles opening round, Canadians Gabriela Dabrowski and Adil Shamasdin were beaten 6-4, 6-3 by the French duo of Alizé Cornet and Edouard Roger-Vaselin.
The match ended – see picture off television above – in an unusual manner when Shamasdin double-faulted off the back of Dabrowski’s head or neck.
Before they enter the grounds, spectators with grounds passes are given their marching orders by Wimbledon officials. And those marching orders include ‘no running,’ as can be seen above in the measured ambling of the spectators when they are finally allowed in.