Tangled up in (Nike Paramount) Blue

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In a few weeks, when Wimbledon rolls around, the end of the blue period will be upon us.

But until then, we are not yet done with the Nike Blue – Paramount Blue, officially – that was ubiquitous during the clay-court season.

It was a step above the yellow and green neons that fought a valiant battle for supremacy on the Nike players during the Indian Wells-Miami swing a couple of months ago.

But the French Open was absolutely overrun with it.

Here is just a small sample of the protagonists. They ranged from the juniors, to the pro players – even to legends like John McEnroe and Conchita Martiez.

There were two varieties for the women. The basic kit matched up with the shorts worn by the men.

Some of the women were chosen to wear the non-patterned Maria Sharapova kit : Russian juniors Olesya Pervushina and Anastasia Potapova, American Anastasia Anisimova, Croat Alja Tomljanovic and Canadian Françoise Abanda.

But the vestiges from the battling neons era remained.

Where are the blue socks?

It was all about the shoes and socks.

Nike

We asked several Nike players why the heck the shoes didn’t match. None of them had an answer; they just wear what they’ve given, or paid to wear.

But one did point this out: “The socks don’t match, either!”

There was a little of the green neon around the trim of the shirts – and of course the Swoosh. But the sock/shoe wardrobe malfunction was definitely out-of-the-box thinking.

They should all have been wearing Nadal’s shoes. And it would have been perfect.

Nike

As well, they are also 10 French Open, winning championship shoes. They could even have kept the personalized “Rafa” and No. 9 on the backs of them – just for good karma.

The only outfit that matched the shoes was the black version of the kit, worn by Genie Bouchard.

Nike

On a related note, the two junior girls’ finalists and all four girls in the doubles final were tangled up in Nike Paramount blue. So you can see where the future is headed once they all graduate to the pro tour.

Nick Kyrgios out of Italian Open

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Just a few days after pulling out of his doubles semifinal in Madrid, Nick Kyrgios withdrew from the Italian Open Tuesday.

The issue is his hip. 

The concern, obviously, is that the French Open is less than two weeks away.

Kyrgios didn’t play for a month after Australia’s Davis Cup win over the U.S. But he has seen his European clay-court season cut short by a variety of factors.

First was the death of grandfather Christos. Kyrgios withdrew from his planned clay-season debut at Estoril, Portugal to fly back to Australia for the funeral.

He returned the following week in Madrid, where he posted solid wins over Marcos Baghdatis and Ryan Harrison in the first two rounds. But he lost badly to Rafael Nadal. Kyrgios had a better tournament in doubles with Jack Sock, until they withdrew before the semifinals.

The Aussie practiced in Rome on Monday, but judged the hip a deal-breaker.

Tough first opponent

He was to play Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in the first round Tuesday. That’s not exactly the cushiest way to ease yourself into a tournament – not by a longshot.

Kyrgios was also entered in the doubles with Fabio Fognini – a duo that was sure to be a crowd-pleaser in Rome.

He was replaced in singles by lucky loser Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine. Treat Huey and Michael Venus will be the alternate pair in doubles.

 

 

Weekend preview – May 13-14, 2017

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On paper, the first Mutua Madrid Open semifinal is the final, as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will meet for the 50th time in their careers.

Djokovic leads the head-to-head, 26-23. The 50 meetings are an Open era record.

In fact, the Serb leads the head-to-heads with all of his main rivals. That’s a fact much underreported during an era in which there seems only to be room enough for one “great rivalry” – Federer vs. Nadal.

The Djokovic-Nadal clay-court rivalry can be divided into two eras. And the Madrid tournament was the turning point.

Nadal won their first nine meetings on the terre battue. The 10th came in the semifinals of the Madrid Open in 2009. The Mallorcan won, but it was by far the closest Djokovic had come. Nadal had to mount a major comeback before prevailing 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (9).

They didn’t meet again on clay for two full years. The 10th meeting came … in Madrid.

Djokovic defeated Nadal 7-5, 6-4 and got on the board. Since that breakthrough, Djokovic leads the clay-court rivalry 6-5. He has won the last three, and their seven meetings overall.

The match will take place exactly a year to the day since their last meeting, in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Italian Open.

Djokovic runs the rivalries

Djokovic is playing his first tournament since dismissing his entire support team. He has been accompanied by younger brother Marko and spiritual advisor Pepe Imaz.

Winner heavy favourite for title

The winner of Djokovic vs. Nadal will be the heavy favourite in Sunday’s final as two long shots reached the semifinals in the other half of the draw. 

No. 1 seed Andy Murray’s level was a concern in a loss to lucky loser Borna Coric. No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka was far from impressive as he went out to the ultimate conundrum, Frenchman Benoit Paire.

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The young Austrian will attempt to reach his first Masters 1000 final Saturday in Madrid. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The second semifinal will feature the players who took advantage of those upsets. No. 8 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria (who defeated Coric) will play unseeded Uruguayan veteran Pablo Cuevas (who defeated Paire).

If No. 27 Cuevas can take the title, he would be the lowest-ranked player to win a Masters 1000 tournament since Paris in 2005 when Tomas Berdych (then No. 50) won.

The women’s final

As the week in Madrid unfolded, the women’s field imploded again.

Seeded players Johanna Konta and Garbiñe Muguruza lost before Monday even dawned. No. 2 Karolina Pliskova was eliminated early for the second consecutive week. Top seed Angelique Kerber injured her hamstring in the final game she played against Canadian Bouchard in the third round.

She’s the top seed in Rome this week, but doubtless doesn’t expect much.

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Defending champion Halep has improved with every match this week, and is the favorite in the final. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The form player has been Romania’s Simona Halep, the defending Madrid champion and No. 3 seed. She is battle-tested after pulling out tight victories against two proven veteran clay-courters, Roberta Vinci and Samantha Stosur.

In the final, Halep will face No. 14 seed Kristina Mladenovic. The No. 1 Frenchwoman is on quite a run during this initial part of the women’s clay-court season.

Mladenovic ended Maria Sharapova’s comeback tournament in Stuttgart and reached the final. Friday, she defeated doubles partner and 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova to reach the Madrid final.

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Kristina Mladenovic is looking for a big title to consolidate an impressive clay-court campaign. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Women’s doubles

The women’s doubles final on Saturday will feature two relatively new pairings, as the ladies have played musical chairs in this first part of 2017.

Martina Hingis (who went from Sania Mirza to Coco Vandeweghe over the last year) now partners with Yung-Jan Chan of Taipei. Chan had long played with her sister, Hao-Ching Chan.

They will meet Timea Babos of Hungary (who used to play with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova) and Andrea Hlavackova (who played for years with fellow Czech Lucie Hradecka, then with Shuai Peng). Got that straight?

Sock-Kyrgios pull out

On the men’s side, a brash Aussie-American combo blazed through the draw to the semifinals.

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Kyrgios and Sock are mowing through the field – and having a great time doing it. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Nick Kyrgios didn’t have the fortitude or energy to offer more than token resistance against Nadal in the singles. But in his defense, he flew from the U.S. to Australia to attend his grandfather’s funeral, and then back to Madrid.

But his efforts with good mate Jack Sock in the doubles were impressive.

Sock and Kyrgios rolled through Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau (the 2015 Wimbledon champions and defending Madrid champions, unseeded this year). They then upset No. 5 seeds Rajeev Ram and Raven Klaasen (champions at Indian Wells). Both victories came in straight sets. 

On Friday, they beat the well-decorated Bryan twins 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 10-7 in a barnburner that featured zero breaks of serve. They out-aced the Bryans 13-0 and gave up only one break point. They saved all six break points they faced.

(Their semi-final opponents were to be No. 4 seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo. Unfortunately, they gave them a walkover.)

The other match will pit home-country favorites (and reigning French Open champions) Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez against the French team of Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

The Madrid men’s singles and doubles finals will take place Sunday.

Rome already under way

If you needed any more tennis, the qualifying begins in Rome Saturday, on both the men’s and women’s sides.

Nicolas Almagro, who gave Djokovic such a tussle in the Serb’s Madrid opener, is in the men’s field along with the likes of Kevin Anderson and Alexandr Dolgopolov. All three are former top-15 players; they have seen their rankings drop because of injury and couldn’t get straight into the main draw.

A notable qualifying absentee on the women’s side is Bouchard. The Canadian reached the quarter-finals in Madrid and lost to Kuznetsova Thursday night. But she was a late scratch, for reasons still undetermined.

Doubles Kyrgios – a different Kyrgios

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If you’re not a big fan of the volatile Aussie Nick Kyrgios, but you’re keeping an open mind and you’re willing to see another side to him beyond some of his less-endearing on-court moments, here’s a suggestion:

Watch him play doubles.

The 21-year-old is a different guy on the doubles court. He’s much more relaxed, he smiles a whole lot more, and perhaps he lets more of his real personality shine through. He also takes it very seriously.

Kyrgios and Jack Sock are into the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open doubles after a pair of straight-set wins against two very accomplished doubles tandems. They defeated Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in the first round, and upset No. 5 seeds Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram 6-4, 6-4 Tuesday.

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Kyrgios and Sock hug it out after beating Rojer and Teacu in the first round of doubles at the Madrid Open. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

These two, good mates, have often tried in the past to team up on the doubles court. For a few years, Sock and Canadian Vasek Pospisil were a steady duo (they won Wimbledon in 2014 in their first tournament together).

After that, one circumstance after another prevented it. Only once has it happened. But they had to retire after the first set of their second-round match in Toronto last summer against Pospisil and Daniel Nestor.

But they practice together often – to the reported mild dismay of Australian Open captain and Kyrgios advisor Lleyton Hewitt.

Hewitt, as serious as a heart attack during practice when he played, thinks they don’t work hard enough because they joke around too much.

Court comedians

He’s not totally wrong. Check out this footage of the pair entertaining the crowd thoroughly at the Rogers Cup in Montreal in 2015.

The thing about these two is that the kids LOVE them. And that’s the demographic that will make the game grow during the next era, the one without Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Teenaged boys follow them around as though they’re a pair of pied pipers. In the video above, all the boys from Tennis Canada’s high-performance junior program were on hand and watched most of the practice. Félix Auger-Aliassime (then 14, in the red shirt on the left) is probably the best 16-year-old in the world right now. He won the boys’ title at the US Open last summer.

Kyrgios plans to play doubles at the French Open with fellow Aussie Jordan Thompson. He also hopes to play mixed doubles with his girlfriend, Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia.

Here he is at Wimbledon playing mixed with Madison Keys.

And here he is playing mixed with Genie Bouchard at the US Open last summer. It was just a couple of hours after that match that Bouchard had her fall in the women’s locker room. 

Different guy, huh?

Next up for Sock and Kyrgios are either No. 4 seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo or the alternate American pair of Brian Baker and Nick Monroe.

Buss: Despite notable absences, Davis Cup drama in store

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The future of the Davis Cup has been a hot topic of late.

It has become somewhat of an obligation necessary to qualify for the Olympics –  also under the ITF’s aegis. And it has become a bucket-list event for the top players; no career resumé can be complete without a Davis Cup crown.

Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka led Switzerland to the 2014 Davis Cup title and have played only once since then. With the commitment of the game’s top stars sporadic, the event has lost much of its once-formidable cachet.

With the current schedule of mandatory ATP events  so demanding, committing to (potentially) four more weeks of pressure-packed play has been deemed too much by the tennis elite.

Compounding the Davis Cup’s scheduling woes are that at the moment (Ed: the scheduling tends to change every few years, with the ATP having to sign off on the selected weeks) the weeks set aside for World Group ties come the weeks after the Australian Open, Miami Open, US Open, and the year-end ATP Tour Finals.

I’ve been positing for years now that the ITF and ATP need to join forces to find a way make Davis Cup a marquee event that is held all at once, at a major facility, with ATP ranking points at stake (as there were a few years ago) and significant prize money at stake. Hold it in the fall after all the majors have been played; use the weeks freed up on the ATP calendar to slot some of the events displaced from the indoor season.

In theory, it’s a no-brainer. Practically, the details are mighty devilish.

All Davis Cup challenges aside, eight colorful, storied teams remain alive in this year’s World Group. They will square off beginning Friday in four quarterfinals

Let’s take a look.

The popcorn quarter that wasn’t: Spain visits Serbia

Nobody can accuse Spain’s Rafael Nadal of abandoning his home country. Spain has won the Davis Cup four times during his illustrious career.  But Nadal has known since January there would be a need for his services against a Novak Djokovic-led Serbia and he has chosen to sit out Spain’s quarterfinal tie against Serbia this weekend.

Nenad Zimonjic is now a playing captain; Djokovic’s form is uncertain for the weekend, but he’s there. (ITF/Srdjan Stevanovic)

Once again, his absence really hurts the concept of Davis Cup as a premier event. If there has been one thing missing from this golden era of men’s tennis, it has been a deciding Davis Cup rubber between two of tennis’ Big Four. And time is running out. These next couple of years may well be Davis Cup’s very last chance to see the best from this era face off.

No certain Brexit now: Great Britain visits France

With Andy Murray out with a testy elbow, it appeared Great Britain was heading for an early “Brexit” from this year’s Davis Cup. But despite the persistent loyalty of France’s top players to the competition they have never won as a group, the four nouveaux Mousquetaires –  Gaël Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon – are unavailable.

(The last time none of the four were part of a Davis Cup squad, most were still in their teens. That was in 2005 against Sweden, when the team was Sébastien Grosjean, Paul-Henri Mathieu, Arnaud Clément and Michaël Llodra). 

That leaves Jérémy Chardy, Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau to join rising young star Lucas Pouille on indoor clay in Rouen, France.

By far the youngest member of the French squad, Lucas Pouille is expected to lead them to victory (ITF/Corinne Dubreuil)

Pouille, at No. 17, is the only player currently ranked in the top 40 (the other three have reached that level during their careers). So this has the makings of a highly unpredictable tie with all sorts of room for high drama and unexpected heroes. Whichever nation emerges will need its best players healthy to have any hope of advancing to November’s finals.

Entrée and dessert: Italy visits Belgium

Fabio Fognini, who came back from two sets down to win Italy’s deciding rubber against Argentina in January’s first round, will not be able to answer the bell Friday. Fognini is nursing a few sore body parts from his surprise to the Miami Open semi-finals last week, But the Italians are deep; Andreas Seppi, Paolo Lorenzi and Simone Bolelli, who has just returned from injury, have been nominated. Surprise 2015 finalist Belgium is led by David Goffin. He’ll be a tough customer to beat indoors at home.  With only two players in the top-50 competing, and with Belgium’s No. 2 singles player a long step down from Goffin, this one could be unpredictable.

Thunder Down Under: USA visits Australia

Just as the National Hockey League has so-called “Original Six” teams, the Davis Cup have Team Australia and Team USA.

The Americans have won the Davis Cup 32 times, the Aussies 28 times. That puts them No. 1 and No. 2 on the all-time list. But none of those titles have come recently; the USA’s last win came in 2007, Australia’s in 2003.

The two countries played last year with the U.S. coming out on top. A lot has changed since then. Lleyton Hewitt is a full-time captain now, while Nick Kyrgios has become one of the most dangerous players on the ATP tour.

Kyrgios could use his temperamental sidekick Bernard Tomic. But this will not be Bernie’s weekend. After Tomic declined to make himself available for the first-round tie in January, Hewitt decided to keep the winning squad intact for the quarterfinals.

John Isner’s dress shoes may still be in his closet at home, but he’s standing tall in Brisbane. (ITF/SMP Images)

Team USA is as loaded on the singles side as it has been in years with Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, John Isner and Sam Querrey joining captain Jim Courier in Brisbane. Notably, though, longtime Davis Cup stalwarts Bob and Mike Bryan  – once a near-guaranteed point in the crucial Saturday doubles rubber – have retired from Davis Cup play.

The match of the weekend should be Sock vs. Kyrgios, the fourth match of the tie and first up on Sunday (Saturday night in North America). They are two of the hottest players in 2017 not named Roger Federer. And they are are good friends. It will be interesting to see how their loose, engaging styles of play translate to the pressure cooker of a tight Davis Cup tie.

For Sale: one sweet blue BMW, no (racquet) dents

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If you’re in Australia and in the market for a sweet ride with a stellar tennis pedigree, Nick Kyrgios can hook you up.

We have no idea why the 21-year-old Aussie took to Facebook to sell his car – the first car he ever bought. But here’s the pitch:

A few comments in (and the comments are pretty good), someone suggested he auction it off and give the proceeds to charity. Kyrgios seemed quite keen on that notion.

That’s a fairly serious purchase for 19-year-old’s first car. According to this, the retail price was north of $140,000 AU. Even more surprising? It’s a conservative four-door sedan; we’re not sure what we’d expect Kyrgios to be driving at that age, but not this!

In the meantime, a thought for the first cars we mere mortals bought at that age.

Most of them looked something like this (plus or minus a little duct tape and a few rust spots):

We’ll keep you posted on what happens.

(BMW pic from Kyrgios’ Facebook post)

Buss: When generations collide, tennis wins

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INDIAN WELLS – The Big Four of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have dominated men’s tennis for over a decade. Analysts have been studying their every move, prematurely writing and rewriting their obituaries for years now.

Discussion around their imminent demise often circles back around to who will be the next great players to replace them; the term “Next-Gen” has already been coined to replace “Big Four” in the tennis lexicon.

Mark the date: Wednesday March 15th, 2017 was the day the Next-Gen arrived.

Patrons at the BNP Paribas Open were treated to a historic early-round twin bill Wednesday afternoon as Djokovic played Next-Gen member Nick Kyrgios. It was followed by Round 36 of Federer-Nadal, tennis’ most enthralling rivalry. After watching the afternoon’s play, I feel tennis is (finally) on the cusp of its next evolution. It was a day where the past, present, and future generations collided.

Federer revolutionized the sport early in the last decade with a blend of shotmaking and athleticism the sport had never seen. He became the future overnight, dominating the sport of tennis for five years like few before him.

But every sport evolves. If there was a laboratory where you could create the perfect foil to beat a player like Roger Federer, scientists would have created Rafael Nadal. Just as athletic if not more, Nadal’s heavy lefty forehand could get the ball in to the one place Federer didn’t like it – up and away on his one-handed backhand. As great as Federer was during his run, he struggled against Nadal, tennis’ next evolution, most of his career.

Djokovic was near-unbeatable for three years. Now, not only is Federer resurgent, but the Next-Gen in the person of Nick Kyrgios is already a rival. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

As that rivalry grew in stature, Novak Djokovic was watching from the wings. In order to become the next evolution on tennis’ anthropological chart, Djokovic had to get fitter, stronger, and mentally tougher as he tightened up a scratchy serve and oft-wayward forehand. He did all that; the uber-focused Djokovic became arguably the most complete player in history. He overtook Federer and Nadal in the rankings, on the Masters 1000 career victories list and in the all important head-to-head records.

As a student of the game, I often wondered: what next? How does the sport continue to evolve? Who among the next generation can top the genius of these three legends? With the ATP seemingly committed to keeping the surfaces slow

Kyrgios’s talents may be the one to take men’s tennis to the next level. And the kids dig him, too. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

( there seems to be some movement on that front though in 2017), it seemed implausible a younger player could develop the maturity, all-around game and defensive skills of a Djokovic (and we can include Andy Murray in this discussion) to supplant them. Collectively, the Big Four has set the bar awfully high for the Next-Gen.

Wednesday, we saw tennis’ next evolution. His name is Kyrgios. The hype has been swirling around the young Australian for some time now but past results and behavior aside, in a sport flush with next-level athletes, Kyrgios has broken

Kyrgios has been a revelation in the desert this week.

away from the pack and is arguably in a league of his own. He showed that Wednesday in victory against Djokovic (he has beaten him twice in the last three weeks, in straight sets, in his first two career meetings against him).

There was a telling point in the very first game. With Djokovic serving, the two settled in for a baseline rally. Well over 20 shots later, they were still rallying.

Djokovic was taking full cuts, trying to bully Kyrgios around the court. Kyrgios was having none of it, calmly and patiently patrolling the baseline, bunting backhands and rolling forehands back in the most casual of manners. Djokovic would eventually make the error, dropping his serve for the only break of the match. The message Kyrgios sent to Djokovic was clear: Hit as hard as you can, as often as you can. You can’t hurt me.

In that moment I felt an evolutionary leap in the game. The future of tennis is only getting bigger, faster, stronger and more dynamic, it appears the relentless back courtstyle of the past 10 years will no longer reign supreme going forward

Nowhere was that more apparent than when Kyrgios served. Following up his Acapulco serving clinic against Djokovic (25 aces in two sets), Kyrgios played two more against the best returner in the game and not only didn’t get broken,he  never faced a single break point.

With first serves routinely in the mid- to high-130’s, it was the second serve that made you stand up and take notice. Kyrgios routinely hit it in the mid teens; an exclamation-point, second-serve ace in the tiebreak clocked in at 126 mph.

With Indian Wells playing fast in the heat, there’s no question Kyrgios took advantage of favorable playing conditions. Regardless, you can’t defend what you can’t touch.

Federer’s one-handed backhand might be the best it’s been in his career right now. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Next up, the much-anticipated Federer-Nadal clash turned out to not be much of a match at all.

From the first point, Federer came out hitting the ball as hard as I’ve ever seen him. Just when you think you’ve run out of superlatives for the timeless maestro, he takes it up to yet another dimension. What was clear from the start was that he was not going to allow Nadal to bully him around the backcourt as the Mallorcan has always been able to do on slower surfaces throughout their rivalry.

The points were going to be short, one way or another. Federer committed to hitting over every backhand possible, slicing only when he absolutely had to–  especially on the return of serve. It certainly doesn’t hurt the confidence to rip a few early winners to get up an immediate break. One of tennis’ great frontrunners, Federer was playing with house money after jumping out to a quick lead. He never looked back during a 68-minute demolition of his once-formidable foil.

A very happy Federer after a routine victory over his once most-challenging rival. (TennisTV.com)

It is the first time ever that Federer has gotten the better of Nadal three consecutive times. Only twice has he ever won two in a row: Wimbledon and the now-defunct Tennis Masters Cup in both 2006 and 2007.

The message, again, was that you can’t defend what you can’t reach. Forward thinking always, Federer sees that future success lies in his ability to take the initiative early and often, smothering opponents like vintage Federer did a decade ago.

Tennis has been getting taller and more powerful for a generation now. The wildcard has always been whether the bigger bashers could cover the court well enough. In Kyrgios, I believe we have the future: a blend of power and athleticism that could dominate the next decade much as his Wednesday courtmates did the last one.

While the big guns fire in the big stadium, the Next-Gen heats up Stadium 2

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INDIAN WELLS – From the day of the men’s singles draw less than a week ago, many eyes were focused on blockbuster potential early-round matchups between established stars that threatened to set the BNP Paribas Open on fire from early in the week.

Novak Djokovic vs. Juan Martin del Potro in the third round. Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal – a rematch of the Australian Open final – in the fourth round.

But buried in the “quarter of death”, as that section of the 2017 men’s draw came to be called, was the first career meeting between two youngsters who a decade from now might be exactly where these champions are right now.

And so it was that Nick Kyrgios of Australia and Alexander Zverev of Germany met for the first first time in their young careers. And, appropriately, while the current champions battled it out in the main stadium, they met in Stadium 2 – a mini-replica of the big stage but, of course, not the big stage.

(They met once as juniors, in the Wimbledon warmup tournament at Roehampton, a match that easily went Kyrgios’ way).

Almost exactly two years apart with Kyrgios the elder at 21, both are already in the top 20. And if the 6-3, 6-4 win by Kyrgios sets their early career head-to-head at 1-0 for him, it may in no way presage the tenor of the many matchups to come.

“It was the worst match I played all year. It’s quite simple. My serving was absolutely horrible, my returning was absolutely horrible. From the baseline was horrible. There is not one thing I did well,” Zverev said afterwards. “It was just that kind of day.”

It didn’t seem that bad from Zverev’s side, although at 48 percent his first-serve percentage wasn’t nearly enough. Part of that pressure came from Kyrgios, who took the 130-plus mile-an-hour offerings from his opponent and returned many of them as though they were no big deal at all.

It wouldn’t be a match without a Kyrgios trick shot and in this case, it threw Zverev off enough that he missed the putaway volley immediately afterwards (Via TennisTV)

Already, their styles seem set. Zverev will be be the elegant one, the lanky, gliding star with the pitch-perfect technique, already a complete player in the making but in that textbook kind of way with few surprises.

Kyrgios, perhaps blessed with even more talent – and that’s a high threshold – is always going to be the unpredictable one, but the one who already creates shot sequences (dropshot-backhand lob winner combinations for one) out of his fertile mind, on the spot, in a precocious way. That kind of tennis mind, you can’t teach. He creates between-the-legs volleys in the same spontaneous way, which only adds to his unpredictability even if the success rate isn’t golden.

“I think there were some points where everyone enjoyed it. I thought he was playing some great shots. The crowd enjoyed. You know, I was enjoying it. There was obviously a lot of pressure. I thought at times we both looked a bit nervous – fair enough, with everything going on, a lot of expectations,” said Kyrgios, whose performance in the press conference room after the match was equally first-rate.

Kyrgios has been in great spirits so far in the desert – the presence of girlfriend and fellow player Ajla Tomljanovic until a couple of days ago no doubt a contributing factor. He’s also playing some quality tennis.

“I don’t think I served that well today, actually. I felt – I wasn’t serving my best, so I thought I just competed well,” he said. “It was always going to be a tough match. He’s been playing great tennis and on the rise ever since juniors. I knew it was going to be tough. … I’m just really glad to get through.”

There was a moment when it all could have gone off the rails, as Kyrgios took issue with chair umpire Cédric Mourier’s failure to overrule a fairly obvious out ball – on set point, no less. Kyrgios had to challenge, and he won it. But he felt, on principle – with Kyrgios, there’s often a principle – that he shouldn’t have had to.

Kyrgios and chair ump Cédric Mourier got into it on a couple of changeovers about the lack of overruling. “I’m not a machine,” Mourier said. (Via TennisTV)

He muttered about it through the set break and again at the break after the third game of the second set. He dropped a couple of profanities and got an audible obscenity warning that earned him a few boos from the crowd.

“I’m trying my hardest, and I shouldn’t have to deal with that s..t,” was one pithy quote.

But it didn’t escalate and, crucially for Kyrgios, it didn’t affect his play. He was steadfast, appreciating the hot weather for the extra bounce he got on his forehand because of it, and never giving Zverev an opening to make a tight contest of it.

“Ultimately, it was a good match. He’s going to beat me plenty of times in his career, I think. I’m going to beat him. It’s going to … that’s how it’s going to be,” Kyrgios said.

Next up is Novak Djokovic, whom Kyrgios beat less than two weeks ago in Acapulco by serving out of his mind, late at night, in the first-ever match between the two. This time, because both are still alive in the doubles, it will be a mid-afternoon match Wednesday.

This time, it will be in the big stadium.

A little love tennis in the desert, with Kyrgios and Tomljanovic

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INDIAN WELLS – Fresh off a cross-country flight from New York, where he took part in the World Tennis Day event at Madison Square Garden, Aussie star Nick Kyrgios quickly found his favorite practice partner.

And so, Kyrgios and girlfriend Alja Tomljanovic, who is coming back from shoulder surgery and has been away from tennis (and most often away from her heart) for more than a year, went out for a knockup. Here’s some video.

Kyrgios combined words of encouragement with a little coaching, a little hotdogging, a little interaction with the crowd and a little quality time with his ladylove. As it happens, it was the eve of International Women’s Day.

These two are fairly besotted. It’s pretty adorable. Kyrgios even mentioned in his press conference Tuesday after defeating Alexander Zverev that he was bit bummed his girlfriend had left town two days ago. But he’ll see her at the next stop in Miami.  It’s a long way from the last 12 months, when Tomljanovic was rehabbing and often in Florida as Kyrgios was on the road travelling the tour; it was a challenge to carve time to see each other.

There are other boyfriend-girlfriend combinations on the WTA and ATP Tours, but it’s not that often you’ll find them hitting with one another during tournaments. But Kyrgios isn’t your average ATP Tour guy; he actually likes hitting with the women, appreciates the rhythm he gets from returning the flatter ball. One of his favorites is doubles star Sania Mirza.

Not to be outdone, Kyrgios was back at it the very next day (on International Women’s Day) having a hit at the beginning of Japanese lefty Misaki Doi’s practice.

Ever the gentleman (I know, you’re thinking – you just called Kyrgios a gentleman? He actually is), he let Doi have the bench while he took the best available alternative.

Kyrgios’ magic touch in this tournament didn’t carry over to his practice partners, sadly. Tomljanovic lost in the first round to Julia Goerges, 7-5, 6-2 while Doi, who took the court hours after her hit with Kyrgios, lost to qualifier Anett Kontaveit.

But it is likely not a sheer happenstance that Tomljanovic’s return to the scene in the last two weeks (she made her comeback in Acapulco last week), with Kyrgios there for both, coincides with some terrific tennis from her significant other (there was the win over Novak Djokovic in Acapulco in their first meeting and the routine win over Zverev Tuesday, in their first meeting).

He appears to be in extremely good spirits. We may be about to find out if happy/content Kyrgios is as good a player as p…ed off Kyrgios. He might even be better.

World Tennis Day at MSG

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World Tennis Day kicked off its 10th anniversary edition at iconic Madison Square Garden Monday with a star-studded field of past and present greats.

If there were any doubt tennis is the most international of sports, look no further than this year’s lineup.

In an increasingly saturated sports market, it’s hard to get too geeked up for all-star games or any kind of exhibitions. But World Tennis Day seems to have found some traction as 12,000 strong filled MSG to near-capacity on a Monday night in the dead of winter in the Big Apple.

So here’s to tennis and some savvy event marketing!!