Infotainment Factory: The rare stat born from 'Kyrgios contradiction'

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Thursday, 7 March 2019

The rare stat born from 'Kyrgios contradiction'


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It’s the potential showdown that has the tennis world talking. The draw for the first Masters 1000 event of the year has thrown up the mouth-watering prospect of a third-round showdown between top seed Novak Djokovic and Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, fresh off his tournament win in Mexico last week.

Djokovic was in imperious form in Melbourne in January, demolishing Rafael Nadal in the final to claim his 15th major title. Kyrgios had been typically unpredictable through the early part of the season, before leaving Nadal and world No. 3 Alexander Zverev in his wake in Mexico.

A win over Djokovic at Indian Wells would give the 23-year-old victories over each of the top three players in the world rankings in the space of a fortnight, a possibility that barely seemed likely when Kyrgios wanted to retire during his match against Nadal in Acapulco, only to keep playing because he feared the negative reaction from fans and media.

Kyrgios has a combined 50 percent win ratio against Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer, something no other active player has achieved. It’s a statistic that comes as no surprise to former Australian Open champion Jim Courier.

“Those are pressure-free matches for him. He has that first strike ability to take the racquet out of their hands with his serve and then he can shock-absorb with his backhand,” Courier told the Tennis Channel.

“He's dangerous but he's also dangerous to himself at times in the matches on outside courts when he goes walkabout like an Aussie can, and he's not as focused.

“If we expect this guy to win majors now, I think that's a bridge too far unless he addresses the physical gap between him and the other guys,” he said.

“But from a talent, shotmaking showpoint, he showed there is no gap there, because that was a tough draw he went through.”

It’s the tendency to go “walkabout” that could come back to bite Kyrgios. As seeded players, both he and Djokovic have a bye into the second round in Indian Wells, meaning victories in their opening matches will see them advance to the third round matchup.

While Djokovic is at short odds to dispose of either Bjorn Fratangelo or Elias Ymer, Kyrgios faces a potentially tricky match against Philipp Kohlschreiber.

As Jon Wertheim pointed out in Sports Illustrated, the Australian’s win in Acapulco summarised his career in a nutshell.

“That was an awesome display, a reminder of why so many care about him and why the notion of him winning majors isn’t fanciful. A week ago, he was outside the top 70. He comes to Indian Wells as the talk of the sport. It doesn’t take much. It seldom does,” he wrote.

“The challenge for Kyrgios is now beating lesser players. Contrarian in every way, this is a central Kyrgios contradiction. With most athletes you say, ‘Great job beating the folks you’re supposed to beat, can you elevate and do it against the highest level competition?’  With Kyrgios it’s, ‘Great job elevating against the highest level of competition, but can you do it day-in, day-out against the player you’re supposed to beat?’”

The man himself seems to be well aware of his potential, telling the ATP after the Mexican final: “I need to be way more disciplined, way better professionally and do the right things. I don't even have a coach, so maybe I start there.”

Included in his record against the Big Three is a 2-0 head-to-head lead over Djokovic. The pair met, co-incidentally, in Acapulco and Indian Wells in 2017, with Kyrgios victorious in straight sets on each occasion.

In fairness to Djokovic, it must be pointed out that it was around this time that the Serb was struggling with an injury to his right elbow that saw him miss the last four months of the season. In fact, prior to 2017, the last time Djokovic went an entire year without at least one semi-final appearance at a slam was way back in 2006.

Novak Djokovic

Many believe that if his Melbourne form in January is anything to go by, Djokovic is close to unbeatable on a hard court. But ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert says Kyrgios is the type of player who can trouble Djokovic.

“Probably the only ones who can stop him are huge servers or a young, unpredictable guy, like a Kyrgios,” Gilbert said.

Kyrgios can at least draw inspiration from his previous form at Indian Wells. He was forced to skip last year’s tournament with an elbow injury, but made the quarter-finals in 2017, when illness forced him to withdraw before his scheduled match against Federer. His run that year included wins over both Djokovic and Zverev (then ranked 20th in the world).

A win early in 2018 in Brisbane didn’t translate into a great season for Kyrgios. But, as Courier says, the hope is the Acapulco victory can setup a season more like 2016, when he won three times on tour.

“Big picture, it's nice to see him engaged,” said Courier.

“Hope this is a kick starter for him.”

It’s the potential showdown that has the tennis world talking. The draw for the first Masters 1000 event of the year has thrown up the mouth-watering prospect of a third-round showdown between top seed Novak Djokovic and Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, fresh off his tournament win in Mexico last week.

Djokovic was in imperious form in Melbourne in January, demolishing Rafael Nadal in the final to claim his 15th major title. Kyrgios had been typically unpredictable through the early part of the season, before leaving Nadal and world No. 3 Alexander Zverev in his wake in Mexico.

A win over Djokovic at Indian Wells would give the 23-year-old victories over each of the top three players in the world rankings in the space of a fortnight, a possibility that barely seemed likely when Kyrgios wanted to retire during his match against Nadal in Acapulco, only to keep playing because he feared the negative reaction from fans and media.

Kyrgios has a combined 50 percent win ratio against Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer, something no other active player has achieved. It’s a statistic that comes as no surprise to former Australian Open champion Jim Courier.

“Those are pressure-free matches for him. He has that first strike ability to take the racquet out of their hands with his serve and then he can shock-absorb with his backhand,” Courier told the Tennis Channel.

“He's dangerous but he's also dangerous to himself at times in the matches on outside courts when he goes walkabout like an Aussie can, and he's not as focused.

“If we expect this guy to win majors now, I think that's a bridge too far unless he addresses the physical gap between him and the other guys,” he said.

“But from a talent, shotmaking showpoint, he showed there is no gap there, because that was a tough draw he went through.”

It’s the tendency to go “walkabout” that could come back to bite Kyrgios. As seeded players, both he and Djokovic have a bye into the second round in Indian Wells, meaning victories in their opening matches will see them advance to the third round matchup.

While Djokovic is at short odds to dispose of either Bjorn Fratangelo or Elias Ymer, Kyrgios faces a potentially tricky match against Philipp Kohlschreiber.

As Jon Wertheim pointed out in Sports Illustrated, the Australian’s win in Acapulco summarised his career in a nutshell.

“That was an awesome display, a reminder of why so many care about him and why the notion of him winning majors isn’t fanciful. A week ago, he was outside the top 70. He comes to Indian Wells as the talk of the sport. It doesn’t take much. It seldom does,” he wrote.

“The challenge for Kyrgios is now beating lesser players. Contrarian in every way, this is a central Kyrgios contradiction. With most athletes you say, ‘Great job beating the folks you’re supposed to beat, can you elevate and do it against the highest level competition?’  With Kyrgios it’s, ‘Great job elevating against the highest level of competition, but can you do it day-in, day-out against the player you’re supposed to beat?’”

The man himself seems to be well aware of his potential, telling the ATP after the Mexican final: “I need to be way more disciplined, way better professionally and do the right things. I don't even have a coach, so maybe I start there.”

Included in his record against the Big Three is a 2-0 head-to-head lead over Djokovic. The pair met, co-incidentally, in Acapulco and Indian Wells in 2017, with Kyrgios victorious in straight sets on each occasion.

In fairness to Djokovic, it must be pointed out that it was around this time that the Serb was struggling with an injury to his right elbow that saw him miss the last four months of the season. In fact, prior to 2017, the last time Djokovic went an entire year without at least one semi-final appearance at a slam was way back in 2006.

Novak Djokovic

Many believe that if his Melbourne form in January is anything to go by, Djokovic is close to unbeatable on a hard court. But ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert says Kyrgios is the type of player who can trouble Djokovic.

“Probably the only ones who can stop him are huge servers or a young, unpredictable guy, like a Kyrgios,” Gilbert said.

Kyrgios can at least draw inspiration from his previous form at Indian Wells. He was forced to skip last year’s tournament with an elbow injury, but made the quarter-finals in 2017, when illness forced him to withdraw before his scheduled match against Federer. His run that year included wins over both Djokovic and Zverev (then ranked 20th in the world).

A win early in 2018 in Brisbane didn’t translate into a great season for Kyrgios. But, as Courier says, the hope is the Acapulco victory can setup a season more like 2016, when he won three times on tour.

“Big picture, it's nice to see him engaged,” said Courier.

“Hope this is a kick starter for him.”

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