Novak Djokovic was just playing tennis, while his opponent lost control of him throughout Wimbledon. Djokovic, the world’s number one player, remained a mechanical hitting machine, slicing drop shots, returning difficult serves, as Australian Nick Kyrgios shouted at himself, at his team sitting in a courtside box, and at the chair umpire. As he does, Kyrgios started to fall apart after the winning set. Djokovic, however, pounced, keeping his playing high. He won his seventh Wimbledon title, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3), tying Pete Sampras for second-most men’s single titles at the tournament; they’re both one behind Roger Federer, who has eight. Djokovic passed Federer, however, on the all-time majors list: he now has 21, one ahead of Federer’s 20, and one behind Rafael Nadal’s men’s record, 22.
Djokovic is the only one.
The match featuring two of best but most reviled players on tour — Djokovic for his refusal to receive a Covid-19 vaccination, Kyrgios for his sometimes boorish behavior— turned in the second set, when Djokovic was up 5-3, and serving to win the set. Kyrgios won three of the opening points and was awarded a third break point. However, he wasted the chance and refused forgiveness. After yelling at the team and beating himself up over it, he began to verbally abuse them. Kyrgios, who was making his first finals appearance at a Grand Slam, couldn’t control his temper on the biggest stage in his sport. Djokovic won that set, and didn’t lose another on the way to his fourth straight Wimbledon title.
Kyrgios, who was serving at 4-4 during the third set, went up to 40-0. He couldn’t stay focused and Djokovic broke him, before winning his next service game and going up 2-1 in sets. At a changeover, Kyrgios again began shouting towards his box across the Wimbledon grass, in a mostly quiet stadium: the occupants of the Royal Box, which included Prince William, Kate Middleton and their son Prince George—in his Wimbledon debut—are no doubt unaccustomed to such impolite behavior. Kyrgios also pushed the chair umpire for a disqualification of a fan he claimed was distracted and drunk.
Despite the histrionics, Kyrgios, to his credit, kept his serve strong: he finished with 30 aces, to Djokovic’s 15. His opponent was 62-46, but he won more of his winners. Kyrgios finished the set with 33 unforced mistakes, compared to Djokovic’s 17. He fought hard on the fourth set: neither player could break the other’s service, before the set moved to a tiebreaker. Kyrgios committed two errors on the tie-breaker point. Kyrgios continued his mistakes and chirp throughout. Djokovic led 6-1. Djokovic won the match shortly after.
Kyrgios seemed to be in a good mood afterward, complimenting Djokovic at the presentation of the win. “He’s a bit of a God,” Kyrgios said. He then thanked the ball boys and girls and chair umpires, acknowledging he had a “tough relationship” with them at times. The whole crowd laughed. Kyrgios, what to say? It is clear that his talent is undisputed. He was able to overcome all of his self-sabotage and make it to the Grand Slam final. He’s still only 27, and it’s not difficult to picture more runs like these in his future. Kyrgios’ unpredictable behavior during matches is a great benefit to the sport. There’s no one else like him.
However, he is often accompanied by dark clouds. He was accused of assaulting a girlfriend last year and will be appearing in court next month.
Do you think he wants to be great? When asked, after the Wimbledon final, whether he wanted to advance this far in a major event again, Kyrgios responded “absolutely not,” citing exhaustion. Although he was being facetious, the comment spoke volumes about his dilemma: Is the effort and sweat required to win majors worth it?
If it’s not, that’s perfectly fine. Kyrgios could be stripped of the sometimes exciting play that he makes, but he owes no one. He should be trusted at his own risk.
Djokovic has many problems, even though he’s a great player. He acknowledged after the match that the year has taken an emotional toll on him, that he doesn’t enjoy being villainized. He’s brought controversy upon himself in refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. The Australian government sent him home in January for failing to comply with its mandate; he couldn’t defend his Australian Open title (Nadal won it instead). Djokovic may have been victorious at Wimbledon. Djokovic could be prevented from going to the U.S. Open because he is not vaccinated. With Nadal facing injuries and Federer clearly near the end, Djokovic, whose game clearly remains in top form—with no evidence to suggest it will trail off any time soon—remains the favorite to finish out his career with the Grand Slam record.
The world might not love him because of it.
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