By HOWARD FENDRICH The Associated Press
WIMBLEDON, England — Nick Kyrgios walked into a nearly full Center Court to polite applause at 1:30 p.m. sharp Monday, walked out about 3 1/2 hours later to a louder ovation and somehow the centennial stadium survived the experience.
During the warm-up, Kyrgios tossed a ball between his legs and closed with an underarm serve, hardly standard procedure. In the 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-2 Wimbledon win over unranked American Brandon Nakashima that followed, putting Kyrgios through to the Grand Slam quarter-finals for the first time in 7 1/2 years he’s tried this kind of trick shots a few times. Afterwards, he ditched his rule-compliant but backward white cap and white shoes in favor of red versions.
“Because,” he explained when asked about clothing choices, “I do whatever I want.”
Yet somehow those seated in the royal box never turned their backs in protest. And, somehow, the grass-court tournament that dates back to the 1880s hasn’t stopped.
Maybe it’s just because, in addition to hitting 35 aces and “ripping the ball off the baseline” – to use Nakashima’s words – despite having a sore shoulder, he took painkillers. and received repeated treatment from a trainer, Kyrgios displayed a much quieter, much calmer demeanor than the guy who was fined $10,000 for spitting in the direction of a rowdy spectator at the end of his first-round match and $4,000 for audible obscenity in his tumultuous victory over No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round.
“I was able to just say to myself, ‘Wow, look how far I’ve come.’ this season.” I was like, ‘We’re here, we’re competing at Wimbledon, putting on a good performance mentally. It was rewarding.
The unseeded Kyrgios, now 6-0 in five sets at the All England Club, will next face Cristian Garin, a 26-year-old Chilean who saved a pair of match points and scored the first comeback of the two-set fortnight to beat No. 19 seed Alex de Minaur, 2-6, 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (10-6), after more than 4½ hours.
The other quarter-finalist in their half of the draw will be 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal against No. 11 Taylor Fritz. Nadal edged past No. 21 seed Botic van de Zandschulp, 6-4, 6-2, 7-6(6), while Fritz, a 24-year-old from San Diego, made his major quarterfinal debut finals with a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 win over qualifier Jason Kubler.
“It doesn’t even feel real,” said Fritz, who didn’t drop a set in the tournament.
Kubler, who is also Australian, offered his take on Kyrgios.
“Every time I see him, he smiles. Every time I’m with him I feel like I’m laughing,” Kubler said. “So it’s kind of weird when I read or see the comments about him, knowing him like I do. He’s just one of those people if you hung out with him or spent quality time with him you’d fall for it. in love with him.
The women’s quarterfinals set Monday are 2019 champion Simona Halep against No. 20 Amanda Anisimova, and No. 17 Elena Rybakina against unseeded Ajla Tomljanovic.
The combined nine seeds that will make it to either the women’s or men’s quarter-finals is the lowest tally at Wimbledon since 2000.
“I didn’t really think I could do it,” said Tomljanovic, who lost to eventual champion Ash Barty in the quarter-finals last year. “After some tough times this year, I thought: Am I going to have a chance again? I can’t believe that a year later I’m in the same position.
For Kyrgios, who is never one to follow a conventional path, the road has been much longer.
His two previous Slam quarter-finals came at 19 – at Wimbledon in 2014 and the Australian Open in 2015.
The Australian spoke of feeling like a veteran at 27, and his self-description on Monday included “composed” and “mature”.
Not terms typically associated with Kyrgios, but again, as he told reporters at his press conference, “None of you really know me at all. Like, you don’t hang out with me at all. Me. You only see what you see on the pitch. It’s always been a bit of a roller coaster ride. So I understand how it’s mixed reviews. … People just like to have an opinion.
Claiming he’s a changed man, Kyrgios thought back to a second-round loss to Nadal at Center Court in 2019 and recalled: “My agent had to come and pull me out of a pub at 4am… I come a long way, that’s for sure.
Certainly since Saturday, at least, when he repeatedly argued with the chair umpire and a Grand Slam supervisor, and drew accusations from Tsitsipas of being a “bully” and have “a very evil side”. It’s the kind of ruckus Kyrgios has raised before, earning ejections and suspensions, and making people wonder if his enormous talent would ever get him to the closing weekend of a major.
“Obviously,” said Nakashima, 20, “you never really know what’s going to happen with him there.”
Nakashima evened things up taking the fourth set with a break, then took a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Kyrgios admitted to handing over the fourth in an attempt to disrupt his opponent. Seemed to work: won five in a row, before serving it up and concluding this way from love-30: crossover forehand winner; hung in an 11-shot exchange until an admittedly tired Nakashima missed a backhand; 134 mph service winner; forehand volley winner.
When it was over, Kyrgios pounded his chest with his fist, shouted with a mixed expletive and turned to his box of guests – which included his girlfriend and her support team, who he credits with l helped to be a better person off the pitch, but not a full-time coach, because he doesn’t have one.
“I need a glass of wine, of course, tonight,” Kyrgios told the crowd during his on-court interview. “For sure.”