Richard Gasquet has, rightly, declared himself the clear favourite at Wimbledon against the world’s leading teenager, despite acclaiming his opponent as a bold Australian talent destined for the top 10. Nick Kyrgios is yet to win a second round grand slam match. But he will. Soon.
Perhaps not on Thursday, for Gasquet-of-the-sublime-backhand is a seasoned and accomplished player - even if it should also be noted that Australian qualifier James Duckworth stretched the flashy Frenchman to five sets in round one. Kyrgios is still finding his feet on grass and his way in the big league, but he is as confident as Gasquet is respectful of the emerging threat he faces at the All England Club.
“I like the attitude he has on the court, he's very powerful and he fights a lot, so I think he will be very good in the future,’’ said Gasquet, who beat the former top-ranked junior 7-6 (7-3), 6-2, 6-2 in February’s Davis Cup tie on rural French indoor clay.
“I (said) he will be in top 10 and I still think the same, because he likes to fight, he likes to play, and I think he will get a good future. But for sure I think I am still the favourite of the match. He’s young but I know it will be tough, because he has a good serve, and of course it will be tougher for me to play him on grass than on clay court."
And just difficult, full stop. For what Kyrgios lacks in experience, he makes up for in other ways. The Canberran’s coach of 18 months, Simon Rea, notes that there is still some grasscourt adjusting to be done for a player who prefers clay.
However, Rea concedes that there is much that makes Kyrgios special at a time when teens are struggling to make an impact in the men’s game.
"I think the belief that he has in his own ability, and certainly the weapons that he possesses,’’ said Rea, emphasising the lasting contribution of Kyrgios’s former coach Todd Larkham to his development.
“The weapon he has on serve, and the technique that he has behind that, his ability to read the game on returns, and just the firepower that he has at his disposal off both sides at times from the back of the court, is really impressive.’’
Kyrgios is also encouragingly forthcoming, acknowledging the expectation that comes with being the leading teenager in a sport dominated by far more mature competitors, but also the thrill of a Zurich practice week with Roger Federer, and what it is to be anointed by the Swiss, Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and others, as a soon-to-be-big-thing.
“There's a little bit of pressure but at the same time it's more motivation and exctiement,’’ said the world No.144, and former Australian boys' champion. “There's obviously signs I can do something special in the sport, so I've just got to keep my head down and keep working hard.’’
His interview best comes when asked about the prospect of facing Federer, the former basketballer’s nomination as the greatest tennis player of all time. "Geez, I don't know if I'd be able to perform playing Roger any time soon, I'd be admiring him too much,’’ smiled Kyrgios. “But I wouldn’t mind playing him, actually. We played a couple of sets in the training week, so I think I’m pretty confident’’
Of course he is, and that is no bad thing. Rea is more circumspect, naturally, considering the charismatic young extrovert he is guiding, and the keen appreciation of what can occur along the long road ahead, with Gasquet the immediate, if not insurmountable, obstacle.
“Obviously that’s a hell of a task - one of the best players in world tennis, and we saw what he did to Nick last time in Davis Cup, so a really tough assignment,’’ said Rea, who admits he understands the hype around his young client, but is not seduced by it. He is a coach, after all.
Kygios admits Gasquet gave him a “touch-up” in the Davis Cup tie but at least “I know what to expect, and I think grass would suit me more. I played him on clay so I think if I serve well and play aggressive it'll be pretty competitive’’.
Gasquet, the 13th seed, already knows what to expect for the moment, and is eventually anticipating the best from the youngest player in the top 200. “I think (for) 19 years old he is the best for sure, and he has the best future,’’ said Gasquet, when asked about the pecking order of the game’s finest young prospects. “It’s him, of course. For me, he will be very good, yeah.’’