Nick Kyrgios is a potential grand slam champion headed for the world’s top five, according to Richard Gasquet, the man across the net from the young Australian who enthralled Wimbledon with his astonishing second round win on Thursday.
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Nick Kyrgios wins Wimbledon marathon
After losing the first two sets to Richard Gasquet, Nick Kyrgios, the youngest player in the main draw, came back to win the match.
"My goal is to become the No. 1 player in the world,'' declared Kyrgios, the confident teenager from Canberra, after recovering from a two-sets-to-love deficit for the first time in his career, and then saving nine match points in the decider.
"In the future he can be top five, he can win a grand slam of course,'' said 13th-seeded Gasquet, after duelling for almost four hours, only to lose 10-8 in the fifth set. "Now he is still young, a lot of things can happen - injures, many things can happen. He's 19 years old and anything can happen, so don't put too much pressure on him.''
Pressure, he can handle. Attention? That's fine, too. The bigger the occasion, the better he likes it - or so it seems so far. Kyrgios is an extrovert whose bold tennis is a reflection of his personality. But his game, we knew about that. The development, perhaps, was that the demonstration of his mental strength, and signs of some more physical resilience, as well.
"It was an unbelievable match out there,'' Kyrgios said. "My first ever two-sets-to-love down, coming back and winning, it's an amazing feeling... At that stage it seemed like a massive hill to climb. I stuck in there. I just fought and I gave myself the opportunity to win the match.
"I think it's a massive stepping-stone for me to finally reach the third round of a grand slam. Especially to come back from two sets to love down, it can be a building bridge for more things to come. It is my biggest career win, I think. So I'm going to take a lot of confidence out of me moving forward.''
That is already in good supply, even if Kyrgios started a little nervously against Gasquet, in what was just his eighth main draw grand slam match, and played far from his best tennis in the opening two sets.
"The way that he hung in there impressed me the most, because he's sort-of gone away a little bit (previously),'' said Australian Davis Cup coach Josh Eagle.
"At (the) Aussie Open he was fatigued against Benoit Paire, at the French Open he battled a bit against (Milos) Raonic when he was down two sets to love. "But today to dig the heels in, that was the most impressive thing for me, and maybe there was a bit of luck there in the end saving nine match points, but that's got to give him a hell of a lot of belief.''
Indeed, not even his coach, Simon Rea, believed unreservedly as the match points flowed in four successive service games at the sudden-death stage of the tense fifth set.
"His belief in himself never really surprises me - I guess I've got a front row seat to witness that on occasion,'' said Rea. "But for two sets he looked to me like he was all at sea, and certainly once he did start to settle in the third, it's a long road back from that point, and having never been in that situation before, where he's managed to pull himself out of that hole, I guess until you see it done, sure there's an element of surprise there.
"And the other (surprising) thing was deep in the fifth, for me it looked like, without wanting to say it to (strength and conditioning guru) Aaron Kellett, who was sitting next to me, 'gee, it, really looks like there can only be one winner here, and it didn't look like it was gonna be our guy'. And he found a way. He just found a way.''
Former grand slam semi-finalist, now commentator, Wally Masur, said the "rare ability" of the former world No.1 junior has long been obvious. But this was something more. "Whether you've got rare ability or not, I don't quite know how you save nine match points,'' Masur said. "I think that was the amazing thing about that match.
"Gasquet felt tension, he felt pressure, and he played some of those match points very tentatively. It just shows that if you let Nick play, if you allow him to play, he's got all sorts of game and that's what happened.''
Everywhere, the events on court two were being hailed as "career-defining". Former star Paul McNamee declared: "It's a big breakthrough. At arguably the best place to break through. Terrific. The nine match points is overshadowing the two-sets-to-love down, which is really remarkable for someone of that age. It's an exciting day. And it just gives Australian tennis a great lift.''
Eventually, it was Gasquet who cracked under the weight of so many lost opportunities.
"When the moment's there he knows how to take it,'' Todd Woodbridge said of Kyrgios, while the performance was also hailed by Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon singles champion and junior Davis Cup captain of a young player he continues to occasionally help mentor.
"I said to my mates this morning 'watch out for this guy if you like a little bet,' and up two sets to love I felt really guilty, but then he came back, and that's a terrific performance,'' said Cash. "And the way he saved the match points, too. He wasn't playing safe.
"It's not necessarily about how you hit the ball, they all hit the ball well. But Nick's shown the players that he's tough mentally, so that's a huge step, It's not just the shot-making. It's a big win, a big scalp, and all the players are talking about it.''