Nick Kyrgios, the twentieth-ranked tennis player in the world, stepped to the baseline. He briskly bounced the ball and rocked forward to begin his serve, his arms swinging. He has a narrow waist and strong shoulders, a greyhound’s look, and a greyhound’s air of languid indifference. Kyrgios, a twenty-two-year-old Australian, is the only active player ever to defeat Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic in their first meetings; he has beaten Nadal and Djokovic twice, in fact, and came within a few points of a second victory over Federer earlier this year. “I think Nick is the most talented player since Roger jumped on the scene,” Paul Annacone, a former coach of Federer and Pete Sampras, has said. Kyrgios is also the most mercurial. Jon Wertheim, the executive editor of Sports Illustrated, once called him “tennis’ id.”
It was the second round of the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Lyon, a small tournament in the run-up to the French Open. There was a charge in the air, as there always is when Kyrgios plays. He is known for his spectacular shots: he has the skill and the imagination of Federer or John McEnroe. His matches have also featured epic displays of ranting, racquet-wrecking, and trash-talking. Kyrgios once flagrantly tried to lose a match, bopping in a serve like a beginner, and starting to walk off the court before it bounced. At some point in almost every match, he tends to do something brilliant—or he snaps.
Twisting, eyes wide, he opened his shoulders and tossed the ball. Then he reared up and whipped his racquet toward the toss. It is an efficient, brutally effective motion. In a match in March, Kyrgios aced Djokovic, the greatest returner in the history of the game, twenty-five times in two sets. He hits flat serves more than a hundred and forty miles per hour. He slices the ball so that it skids the line. He can put on so much spin that the ball arcs in at eighty-four miles per hour and then leaps up above the returner’s head, as if the ground were a trampoline.
Across the net from Kyrgios was Nicolas Kicker, a twenty-four-year-old Argentine who is ranked ninety-fourth in the world. Serving at 5–2, 40–15, Kyrgios already had five aces. This serve, down the T, made it six. His forward momentum carried him toward his chair, as if that were his destination all along.
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