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Nick Kyrgios: ‘I’m one of the best grass-courters in the world but holding it together mentally for me is tough’

Nick Kyrgios has never paid much attention to those that stand in his way. Whether it’s the poor souls who will try and return his bullet serve at Queen’s and Wimbledon over the coming weeks, or those who urge him to keep his mouth shut, Kyrgios’s response tends to be the same: he juts out his chin and goes for the jugular. 

Take his latest controversy for instance – an explosive interview last month where he ripped into his fellow players, including the “cringeworthy” Novak Djokovic and “super salty” Rafael Nadal. 

“Regardless of what players say, my opinions won’t change,” Kyrgios said of those comments, ahead of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s Club next week. When pressed on whether any of the locker room had commented, Kyrgios replied: “A couple of people have loved it actually. I’m not going to mention names, but regardless if people like it or don’t like it they were just my honest thoughts.”

As for his chances at Queen’s and Wimbledon, Kyrgios is similarly bullish: “I’m one of the best grass-courters in the world on my day so I know that I can back myself under pressure on this surface.” 

You suspect the abrasive Kyrgios would particularly back himself if his opponent was one of those he had criticised. Neither Nadal nor Djokovic will be at Queen’s next week, but Kyrgios will come face to face with the Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, who he described in the same interview as “the most arrogant person ever”.  

Nick Kyrgios of Australia celebrates after winning his match against Rafael Nadal of Spain as part of the day 3 of the Telcel Mexican Open 2019 at Mextenis Stadium on February 27, 2019 in Acapulco, Mexico

Kyrgios gave a controversial interview last month in which he criticised Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic  Credit:  Getty Images 

In any case, Kyrgios’s relief at being back on the grass is palpable. A disastrous clay swing ended prematurely in May when Kyrgios stormed off court having thrown a chair and kicked a water bottle in the middle of his Italian Open match against Casper Ruud. He then headed for London and withdrew from the French Open, just days after saying the event “sucks” compared to Wimbledon. No official reason was given for his withdrawal at the time but he now says that: “[Playing there] didn’t really make sense, I hadn’t been training much and I wanted to get on the grass as soon as possible.”

To help with his acclimatisation to the grass, Kyrgios played in the doubles event with Thanasi Kokkinakis at last week’s Surbiton Trophy and then headed to Stuttgart – where he will play in the doubles semi-final today having been knocked out in the first round of the singles by Matteo Berrettini on Tuesday. 

Despite losing to Berrettini, Kyrgios knows that with his lightning-fast game, no-one will want to face him at Queen’s or Wimbledon, where his ranking of No 36 may mean he’s not seeded. “I’ve always felt pretty comfortable on the grass,” he said. 

Wimbledon in particular, where Kyrgios, now 24, beat Nadal to reach the quarter-final as a teenager five years ago, has become a sort of home from home: “My record at Wimbledon’s pretty good. I feel like I’ve had some great memories, really fond memories there – that’s where it all started for me.

“I’ve had some epic matches. It’s just the tradition of Wimbledon is awesome – the crowds are very respectful, the courts are perfectly cut. It’s the ultimate slam you want to win. And I don’t know how many more Wimbledons I will play so I can’t take these for granted. 

Andy Murray of Britain, left, shakes hands with Nick Kyrgios of Australia, right, after Kyrgios won their singles tennis match at the Queen's Club tennis tournament in London, Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Kyrgios (R) is delighted that Andy Murray will make his comeback at Queen’s Credit: AP

“I feel like I could do better than quarter-finals. I did that when I was 19 without any training really. I love London, it’s very like Australia, and I really like being home. It has that home vibe about it.”  

As ever with Kyrgios, the most important factor over the next month will likely be his state of mind. Of his chances at Queen’s – where he was a semi-finalist last year – and Wimbledon, he said: “Mentality is the key. I need to go in feeling fresh.”

Being in London where he feels so comfortable should help, and he has felt reinvigorated by playing doubles with his close friend Kokkinakis, and being joined by one of his best mates from Australia. He admits though that: “Holding it together for two weeks mentally for me is tough. But I’ll try my best – I definitely want carry myself in a way that’s good role model for people watching.”

Queen’s next week will also bring about a reunion with his close friend Andy Murray, who he beat in the 2018 tournament and who this year will be playing doubles with Spain’s Feliciano Lopez. Kyrgios hit with Murray at Wimbledon last month and refused to rule out a possible doubles link-up in the future – though not at Wimbledon. He added that: “He’s hitting awesome, hitting the ball great. But people shouldn’t put so much pressure on him. Just seeing him back on the tennis court, seeing him happy is all that matters.”

Murray may well feel the same about the me-against-the-world Kyrgios.  

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