When Nick Kyrgios met Alexander Zverev Saturday in the China Open semifinals, he was devastating.
It was the fourth meeting between the young guns this season. And Kyrgios has now won three of them.
Not only was his tennis world-class, the Aussie got inside Zverev’s head so comprehensively in the 6-3, 7-5 win that it was the younger, higher-ranked German who was on racket-snapping detail.
Kyrgios sang along to the stadium soundtrack on the set break. And he came out in the first game and hit two ridiculous volleys on the first point. Then, he pulled a Roger Federer-like SABR (although with a two-handed backhand) on the second point that got the crowd into it.
Which unnerved Zverev enough that he double-faulted on the next point.
Later, after a brilliant 31-shot rally, he beat Zverev with a deft and well-conceived shot that was within the German’s reach at the net. But it dipped so dramatically right in front of him that he couldn’t handle it.
Which unnerved Zverev enough that he double-faulted on the next point, coughed up the break of serve and then went rogue on his tennis racket.
What a difference a day makes
The victory put Kyrgios in the final against Rafael Nadal, whom he defeated in their last meeting, on a hard court in Cincinnati in August.
But when Kyrgios came out on Sunday, he wasn’t the same fellow.
Mainly, his serve wasn’t the same. And that likely was the main source of his tennis frustration. His first delivery landed at a 70 per cent clip against Zverev. Against Nadal, he couldn’t break 50 per cent.
And he was cranky, getting into it with umpire Mohamed Lahyani from the get-go on some dodgy line calls. There was no getting him out of his funk.
The SABR didn’t work. He got a couple of challenges wrong. At one point, when Nadal was ready to serve (and we know how long that takes), Kyrgios was still giving Lahyani lip and the world No. 1 had to back off.
There were some ill-advised serve-volley plays on second serves. And unlike much of the week, Kyrgios played speed-dating on his service games, barely waiting for one point to finish before he was ready to begin the next.
On the changeover at 2-5, Lahyani assessed a point penalty, so as he served to stay in the set, he was down love-15 before he stepped to the line.
Two double-faults at 30-all, and the set was over. And the match; Kyrgios earned just one more game as Nadal won 6-2, 6-1 to win his 75th career title.
In a little more than 24 hours, the space of a short weekend, the best and the worst of Kyrgios were on display.
In other words, not an atypical Kyrgios weekend.
“He played well. I played terrible. He’s in great form. He just destroyed me today, so it was too good,” Kyrgios told the media in Beijing. “I put in a pretty good week, had some good wins. It’s tough to find positives when you won three games in the final. But I guess there were positives. In the semi-final I played well, obviously beating Alex (Zverev).”
When it was good, it was GOOD
It was a shame. Because when the tennis was at forefront of this Beijing final, it was breathtaking. But after four wins during the week, the Aussie had turned the page on Beijing.
It wasn’t as though the crowd didn’t get its money’s worth. The women’s final preceded the men Sunday night. As well, despite the lopsided score and the lightning round on serve, the match still took an hour and 32 minutes – 15 minutes longer than the much tighter contest against Zverev.
Kyrgios will drop a couple of spots in the rankings – he’ll be just out of the top 20 Monday. The Aussie won the tournament in Tokyo a year ago and so failed to defend 200 of the 500 points he earned.
Still alive for London
Meanwhile, Kyrgios moved up – five spots – in the race to the ATP Tour finals in London. He stands 15th; in reality, he’s 12th with the idle Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray ahead of him. With two Masters 1000 series tournaments to come, he’s far from out of contention.
And he’ll get right back at it in Shanghai, with a tough first-round match against Steve Johnson in singles, but slotted into a good section of the draw.
With only second-round points to defend and the difference between No. 21 and No. 13 only 400 points right now, it’s an opportunity. He’s also playing doubles with Lucas Pouille.
The Kyrgios road show rages on, coming to a tennis stadium near you.