By Jane Voigt
There’s a razor-sharp line between brilliance and stupidity on a Grand Slam court. Nick Kyrgios dances that edge, seeming to relish the danger. Just look at his Mohawk buzz-cut and the diamond earring studs.
Across the net from Kyrgios late today at the Australian Open, in their 4th-round match, stood the number-three seeded player, Grigor Dimitrov … a Kyrgios contrast as vivid as a noonday sun. Dimitrov’s all-business attitude has been sharply honed over his career, many of which have been spent in the shadows of Roger Federer, being called “Little Fed,” for mimicking the maestro’s style of play. But the Bulgarian has come into his own and the label has drifted away, as it should.
Dimitrov’s discipline and ever-steady commitment to his singular mission — get to the quarterfinal — mattered the most today. Make no mistake, it pulled him over the victory line: 7-6(3), 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(4).
“I’ve always been a perfectionist,” Dimitrov told Jim Courier on court, immediately following the win on Rod Laver Arena. “But, I’ve learned there’s no such thing. Sometimes you have to take a chance.”
He had the biggest, and first, chance to close the match in the fourth set. Yet for as solidly as he’d been playing throughout the match, the game demonstrated the absolutely shattering reality nerves can play – even for players at the tippy top of the game.
That put him in the toughest moment of the match. He had to recover from collapse against a most-talented opponent who had, at that time, served over 30 aces and showed no signs of letting up.
“He was serving unbelievable,” Dimitrov admitted. “He fought really hard. It was frustrating at times.”
Yet he persevered, taking the fourth to a tiebreak a place no player wants to end up. It’s too risky. It’s a place where a balance of arrogance and humility must work hand-in-hand, at this stage in the tournament and at this stage in their careers. Margins are too thin in men’s tennis not to blend the impossible.
Kyrgios, though, made the tiniest of errors in timing as the tiebreak creeped along. He mishit a forehand, what would’ve been a sure winner, because Dimitrov, no matter how speedy his wheels, was way off court. The error gave Dimitrov the ubiquitous ‘mini break’. Dimitrov did not allow nerves to interfere this time. He closed the match, which fulfilled every digital inch of promotion spilled in its direction.
“You always have to be alert,” Dimitrov said. “It was one of those matches where you have to be locked in and try really hard.”
“I deserved the standing ovation I got,” Kyrgios said, as reported by Inside Tennis on Twitter. “I went down swinging. Better than last year.” He was booed off court then.
The match was a battle from the get-go. To illustrate, both both players had won 150 points each right before the 4th-set tiebreak. By match’s end Dimitrov had won 157 points to Kyrgios’s 156.
Their winning percentages on first serves were astronomically high, as well: Dimitrov, 81%, and Kyrgios, 79%. Nick out-aced Grigor, though, which could’ve thrown him in a tailspin if he hadn’t kept his mind in check. In all Kyrgios whacked 36 aces to Dimitrov’s 16.
Three of those proved most frustrating in the third set, which Kyrgios won by a break serving 3 aces, each right around 130 mph, plus one unreturnable serve whizzing in at the same pace.
With tight stats and a steady demeanor and game on Dimitrov’s side of the court, where did Kyrgios fail himself tactically? Most notably, footwork. And, second, his wandering mind and senseless indulgences with his box of coaches.
“He’s been burned on that [footwork] a lot,” Patrick McEnroe pointed out, calling the match alongside brother John for ESPN. Quick returns found Nick flat-footed. Angled shots drew him wide with no recourse but go-fo-broke on shots. All-in-all, Dimitrov exploited the faulty footwork with alacrity.
“All business tonight,” Chris Evert tweeted.
We all know Kyrgios can go off the boil, just check out the many ways that’ve been captured on hundreds of You Tube videos. Today, didn’t disappoint in that department. He had a fight with his box of buddies about string tension. “You had one thing to do today,” Nick screamed, as he loped to the sideline. The riff continued after the changeover, as he shook his head in disbelief. However, as a benchmark to remember, the Aussie let go of his emotions when, in fact, he could have kept up the immaturity.
“It wasn’t like I got demolished out there,” Kyrgios told Inside Tennis. That’s Nick’s way of saying he’s changed. And, for the better.
Next for Dimitrov is Kyle Edmund of Great Britain who came from a set and break down to Andreas Seppi to advance to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-2, 6-3.
“It’s a good feeling,” Edmund, ranked No. 49, told the press later. “Although it was quite a first set, I didn’t feel I got off to the best of starts. He was hitting the ball very clean and dictating a lot of points. So, in the second set, I had to shift the momentum. Once I broke him, I really took control.”
With no Andy Murray in Melbourne, which Edmund is questioned on daily, the Brits have to be happy with his performance.