By Jane Voigt
Rarely do we see two young men defeat big names at a major.
Today we did.
Wildcard Nick Kyrgios defeated Richard Gasquet, the No. 13 seed. And Wildcard Jiri Vesely defeated Gael Monfils, the No. 24 seed. Kyrgios is 19; and, Vesely is 20. They are on their maiden voyages at The Championships.
With Frenchmen Gasquet and Monfils on their way to the French Riviera, perhaps, their quarter of the draw, the Nadal quarter, is left gutted. Only Milos Raonic (No. 8) and Kei Nishikori (No. 10) remain for the Spaniard to handle if matches progress along seeded lines. But, don’t bet on it. This is the same topsy-turvy situation that Serena Williams’ loss caused early in Paris.
Kyrgios and Vesely represent the next generation. Lots has been written about the new crop of women — Simona Halep, Eugenie Bouchard, Madison Keys — but the same has not been true on the men’s side of the net. So their victories are important to note.
It’s much harder for young male players to break-through. Most are prepared physically and mentally, yet experience on big stages comes rarely and never consistently. In part this is due to seeding 32 players in a major draw of 128 players. If only 16 were seeded, an idea that has been tossed around, the lower-ranked men would meet the big boys earlier and thus increase their chances of improving their rankings.
So now this picked-over quarter closely resembles that type of draw, one with half the seeds. We can look at it as an experiment. And since Nadal defeated his X-factor today — Lukas Rosol — he must be delighted with his chances in this trial. (Rosol upset Nadal two years ago in the second round of Wimbledon.)
To make this Wimbledon tale more dramatic, Kyrgios and Vesely will play each other in the third round. They have never met. The match outcome will leave one to advance to his first second-week appearance at a slam and to face Nadal, more than likely. But these are the situations they have trained for. Either will be ready.
Kyrgios certainly deserved his win over Gasquet. The Frenchman had him two sets to love. But, like he has six other times at a major, he let the advantage fly away like his backhand finish whooshes through the air. He mounted a tough campaign in the fifth set, but this kid Kyrgios fought off 9 match points to win, 36 67(4) 64 75 10-8. This was the Aussie’s first career 5-set win in his fifth main-draw appearance at a major.
“My first ever two sets to love down, coming back and winning,” he told the press. “It’s an amazing feeling. [You’re] so proud of yourself the way you hung in and fought it out.”
Kyrgios’ energy lifted as the match intensified in the fifth set. At the end of each point he spun around and hopped a couple steps. Pumped. A large, loud contingency of fans spurred him on, too, as Gasquet’s head lolled foreword as he strolled to the other side of the court muttering.
When Kyrgios served for the match, he was composed … eerily centered and on a mission. He won the game at love.
Jiri Vesely, a six-six lefty playing in his first-ever Wimbledon, worked his big-serving game around spurts of brilliance from Monfils, winning his inaugural 5-set major match 76(3) 63 67(1) 67(3) 64.
Vesely served 12 aces to Monfils’ 23, and won 57% of second serve points compared to 43% from Monfils. The 20-year-old won 73% at the net, a bit above Monfils’ 65%. And even though Monfils hit 71 winners with 23 unforced errors to Vesely’s 57/37 marks, the Frenchman could not overcome Jiri’s foot-speed and anticipation.