Nick Kyrgios says he will be playing for “the ultimate glory” and “tennis immortality” when he faces Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s Wimbledon men’s final.
|Venue: All England Club Date: 10 July Time: 14:00 BST|
|Coverage: Live on BBC One from 13:00 BST, with coverage across radio, online, BBC iPlayer, Red Button, Connected TVs and mobile app.|
Serbia’s Djokovic is bidding for a fourth consecutive Wimbledon title and a 21st Grand Slam overall on Sunday.
Kyrgios is aiming for a first major singles trophy when many thought the mercurial Australian’s time had passed.
He leads the head-to-head between the pair and Djokovic did not win a set in their two meetings in 2017.
However, Djokovic at Wimbledon and in a Grand Slam is a different prospect.
He has not lost a match at the Championships since 2017, when he retired through injury in the quarter-finals, and he will be playing in his 32nd major final – a men’s record.
“I’m very anxious and nervous,” Kyrgios told BBC Sport. “It’s something I’ve never had a chance to do before, play in a Slam final.
“I’ve been in a lot of finals in my career but this is the first time at Wimbledon, at a Grand Slam, the biggest tournament in the world. That’s what kept me up at night – the chance to play for the ultimate glory and become tennis immortality.”
Kyrgios, who does not have a coach, says he does not compare himself to Djokovic or the other members of his sport’s ‘big three’ – Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – because “they’re untouchable” and that he is doing things differently.
“They’re the perfect role models,” said Kyrgios, who has been fined twice at Wimbledon this year for his on-court behaviour.
“I feel like there’s a lot of people who know that’s unobtainable so they look at me, who is relatable and has a lot of imperfections, and is still able to go up against the greats and give them a run for their money.
“Wimbledon is clean-cut and you have someone in the final who is edgy, tattoos, not the clean-cut kind of Roger Federer.
“I think that’s an inspiration to so many people. I think I have completely done it my way. I’ve never really listened to any coaches.”
Kyrgios and Djokovic to put their ‘bromance’ to the test
Djokovic and Kyrgios have moved beyond an initially spiky relationship, with Kyrgios describing the pair as having “a bit of a bromance now”.
Kyrgios previously called Djokovic a “tool” and said he would not take advice from someone “that is partying with his shirt off during a global pandemic”, in reference to a tennis tournament organised by Djokovic that took place in the early months of Covid-19.
Djokovic in return said he did not have much respect for Kyrgios away from the court.
However, Kyrgios defended Djokovic when the Serb was deported from Australia earlier this year because of not being vaccinated against coronavirus.
Kyrgios wrote on Twitter at the time: “I got vaccinated because of others and for my mum’s health, but how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad.
“Like these memes, headlines, this is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better.”
Djokovic, who has been limited in which tournaments he can compete in because he has not been vaccinated, got in touch with Kyrgios to thank him for his support.
“I felt like I was almost the only kind of player and someone to stand up for him with all that kind of drama at the Australian Open,” Kyrgios said.
“I feel like that’s where respect is kind of earned. Not on the tennis court, but I feel like when a real-life crisis is happening and someone stands up for you.
“We actually message each other on DMs in Instagram now and stuff. It’s real weird. Earlier in the week, he was like, ‘hopefully I’ll see you Sunday’.”
An amused Djokovic responded: “I don’t know if I can call it a bromance yet, but we definitely have a better relationship than what it was probably prior to January this year.
“When it was really tough for me in Australia, he was one of the very few players that came out publicly and supported me and stood by me. I respect him for that a lot.”
Kyrgios has long been regarded as a wasted talent – a player who was tipped to win Grand Slams but lacked either the mentality or the focus to do so.
He said after his quarter-final that he did not expect to ever reach a major semi-final, let alone a final when Rafael Nadal withdrew injured.
However, Kyrgios has credited winning the men’s doubles title with close friend Thanasi Kokkinakis in front of raucous crowds at the Australian Open in January with improving his game at Wimbledon.
Djokovic, who is two titles behind Rafael Nadal’s men’s record of 22 majors, will be wary of which Kyrgios will show up to the match and with how much freedom he may play.
“He’s a big-match player,” he said. “If you see his career, the best tennis he’s played is always against the top guys.”
How can Kyrgios beat Djokovic?
Many younger players have appeared awed when facing Djokovic, Nadal or Roger Federer, as though they were almost grateful to be on court with them.
That will not be an issue for Kyrgios, says fellow Australian Todd Woodbridge, a 16-time Grand Slam doubles champion and BBC commentator at Wimbledon.
“He knows he’s the underdog, but he also has massive confidence in his ability to beat the top guys,” he said.
“He knows that he’s one of the only guys that can do it. That’s what he’ll take into this match. He plays better with that mindset of, ‘yes, underdog, but I’m better. I can beat you and I know you’re rattled by me’. That’s exactly the mindset that I think he’ll bring.”
Despite Djokovic being set to play his 32nd Grand Slam final when this is Kyrgios’ first, Woodbridge believes it is as “even-money match”.
He says the Serb will have to “come out sharper” than he did against Norrie and Jannik Sinner in the quarter-finals, where he trailed by two sets to love, because Kyrgios might not allow him a way back into the match.
“Nick’s not going to do that if he gets given a start because he holds serve so much easier,” said Woodbridge.
Having not played since Wednesday, Woodbridge feels the “four-day break could work against him” because it has disrupted his “flow of the tournament”.
Managing his emotions over that period, and in the hours before the final on Sunday, will be key to setting him up for the challenge of Djokovic and the occasion.
“Nick has to be able to cope with those hours leading in until the walk-on,” said Woodbridge. “They are quite intense in the energy you can consume with nerves. If he can cope with that and not use too much, be relaxed, come out and play a really, really strong opening set, he’s got a chance to win.
“I think the opening set, for Nick to win the championship, I really feel he has to win that, to set the tone for the match.”
To win that opening set, and go on to win the title, Woodbridge says Kyrgios needs to impose his game on the defending champion.
“He has to play aggressively, he has to serve well, he has to use his forehand,” he said.
“You don’t want to engage in long rallies against Novak because he’s better, he moves better and he will wear you down. We know he will last longer in a physical encounter than Nick will. He has to be keeping points short, he has to be dynamic and take some chances. Playing conservatively in a match like this is not going to win you the championship.”