Little do some people know that as a teenager Nick Kyrgios had one idol he looked up to, and it wasn’t Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. He was enchanted by the flamboyance of a certain Frenchman by the name of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. As a 12-year old he used to go watch Tsonga’s practice sessions during the 2008 Australian Open. Seeing his hero make it all the way to the final surely must have cemented his adoration for the enigmatic breakthrough star.
And the 17th seed was not candid about his idolization of the Frenchman either.
“It was just the way he played his game. I liked his aggressive style of tennis. He had a big serve, big forehand. He played an entertaining style of tennis. I think I was 12. I went to all his practice sessions with a new ball. He signed it every day. I don’t know if he remembers. I didn’t miss one of his practice sessions, so…”
“I’ve seen him play a lot. I know what he’s going to bring. He knows what I’m going to bring. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
And it was going to be a lot of fun indeed. It doesn’t need an expert to see who Kyrgios chose to mirror his game from. He possesses all the same weapons as his childhood hero, and then some. This contest was going to be a blast-fest of serve and forehand power hitting, making this one of the most anticipated match-ups of the third round. It wasn’t their inaugural meeting though. They had locked horns in the semifinal of Marseille in 2017 where the master still showed the apprentice who’s boss, winning it in a tight decider. This time the roles were reversed. Kyrgios battled to a 7-6(7-5), 4-6, 7-6(8-6), 7-6(7-5) superb win.
Kyrgios had beaten Viktor Troicki in the second round in straights whereas Tsonga’s had to come from 5-2 down in the fifth to conquer Denis Shapovalov. But it wasn’t as if Kyrgios was the fresher of the two in the early goings. They went toe-to-toe from the get-go.
As the pair traded easy opening service holds it was 15th seed Tsonga facing a break point first. Kyrgios converted on the first time of asking as Tsonga’s forehand sailed long. Kyrgios consolidated the break with a love service hold to extend his lead to 3-1. Kyrgios’ confidence was booming early. He even drew the SABR when Tsonga was up 30-0, only to be aced by a sliding serve out wide.
At 3-2 up Kyrgios’ netplay let him down and he faced two break points of his own. The first he saved with a fine curling forehand pass up the line, but on the second he was powerless to a huge slice of fortune as the netcord favored the Frenchman. Players were now both in their stride, bashing the ball on every opportunity with their ground strokes.
At 5-4 down Kyrgios was serving to stay in the set. The Frenchman was pressing hard to force the break, rallying to try to frustrate Kyrgios, who wanted to keep the rallies as short as possible. Kyrgios had to play some mature tennis to get out of multiple deuces to level at 5-5. Both men’s favored one-two punch combos were doing the damage and a tiebreak was going to conclude the opening salvo. Safe to say, the tempo of this match was already breathtaking
There was little to separate them but the ninth point finally went against the server, giving Kyrgios the edge: 5-4. He served his way to his first set points, of which Tsonga saved the first with a great touch to drop the ball short and out of reach of Kyrgios’ racket. Out of nowhere Tsonga then produced his second double fault of the match ending the set in an anticlimactic manner: 7-6(7-5) to Kyrgios.
At 2-2 in the second Kyrgios was guilty of playing too cute. Tsonga had a 0-30 opening to work with. A missed forehand later from the Aussie and the writings were on the wall. Still, Tsonga broke in trademark fashion with a deft touch drop-volley to go up 3-2. Now Tsonga was pumped up. Serving his way to a love service hold. If Kyrgios didn’t overcook a forehand on 40-0 he would’ve done the same. A backhand miss later was all Tsonga needed to chase down every ball on the next rally. Again Kyrgios played an untimely poorly executed forehand drop shot that got punished. Tsonga kept pressing but Kyrgios managed to hold and stay just one break behind: 3-4.
On his own serve, Tsonga was boasting ridiculous serving figures and all the confidence that came with it. Being up 5-4, 40-0, he had three set points and had won 17 consecutive points on serve. An immaculate forehand cross court bomb later meant Kyrgios couldn’t stop Tsonga getting to 18 and the set: 6-4 to the 15th seed.
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Tsonga found himself in a spot of bother in the second game of the third set with his serve finally getting tested by Nick again. He toughed out the hold with a scintillating inside out sliding backhand volley that the entire stadium thoroughly enjoyed. Tsonga fistpumped his way to the change of ends. Henceforth the server was dominant, not having to fend off any break points. With Kyrgios this time on a run of 14 consecutive points on serve, play was destined to go for a tiebreak to decide the third.
In the breaker it was Kyrgios who drew blood first. A pin-point accurate backhand guided pass up the line saw him leading 4-2. When Tsonga produced his third ace in the breaker to have as many points it was Kyrgios who gifted the mini-break lead back with a forehand error. His forehand didn’t fail him, however, when he was 6-5 down, as he completely unloaded on the ball to catch the sideline. What a gutsy save. Another forehand winner at the net saw Kyrgios having his first set point. A terrific angled backhand return sealed it: 7-6(8-6) for Kyrgios and a two sets to one lead. This was vastly shaping up to be the match of the tournament if these two could keep up this insane high level of play.
Tsonga then all of a sudden got upset by someone in the crowd and talked extensively about it with Jake Garner, the chair umpire. After the opening game it became clear the 15th seed had reached his boiling point. Tsonga directly challenged the heckler in the crowd, shouting and gesturing for him to come down to the court. Kyrgios was just going on about his business, trying to lay the hammer down. It earned him two break points in the third game but they were dispatched by Tsonga with ease. A double fault later meant he had to pull another one out of the bag, and it was his biggest forehand of the night, right on the line. Kyrgios couldn’t believe it. Two points later and an ace got Tsonga out in front again, somehow. 2-1 Tsonga.
The get of the match came in the fourth game when Tsonga dived for a half-volley off a pass that clipped the net and dropped over. Tsonga apologized. Kyrgios remained undeterred and fired up a string of aces to level the set. At 30-15 the corwd got their money’s worth once more when Kyrgios played the tweener, only for Tsonga to have the easy put away. His first double fault meant Tsonga had his first chance to break in over two sets. But this time it was Kyrgios with the amazing forehand to deny Tsonga. Falling backwards, he played an audacious cross court shot from the middle of the court, right on the sideline, again. An ace and another forehand later and they were all square again: 2-2.
An incredible lob by Tsonga in the fifth game saw Kyrgios obliged to hit another tweener, this time missing its mark well wide. The entertainment factor was as high as you could have wished for. Arguably the shot of the match came in the seventh game as Tsonga hit an amazing backhand on the line on the dead run. Both players had a good laugh about the challenge that followed it. This match was still played in good spirits while also undoubtedly being a war of attrition.
The ninth game is worth mentioning as it was Kyrgios’ time to hit the near perfect backhand lob. Tension rose again in the tenth afterwards but both players stood firm as they underwent the onslaught of blistering shots coming from the other side. The fourth set, just like the third, could only be decided by tiebreak. And so it happened.
Tsonga quickly got hold of the mini-break. With a powerful forehand cross court winner Kyrgios pegged one back to trail 4-2. Jo-Wilfried was imposing himself at the net often now and Kyrgios was unable to pass him at 4-2 down. At the same time, Tsonga was flexing his knee. A first sign of fatigue perhaps? Up 5-3 Kyrgios finally made life difficult enough for the 15th seed at the net and he got his break back.
Then the moment finally came. At 5-5 a little exchange at the net saw Nick come out the victor. When Tsonga sent his inside-in forehand into the net it also sent 22-year old Nick Kyrgios in absolute ecstasy. Final scoreline 7-6(7-5), 4-6, 7-6(8-6), 7-6(7-5).
The handshake at the net was a true bromance. Laughs all around as Jo-Wilfried patted the youngster on the head. The apprentice had become the master. This was a true coming of age match for Nick Kyrgios. He showed true maturity and played clutch tennis at the most tense moments.
Jim Courier’s on-court post-match interview with Nick was revealing as well.
“It was amazing, I’ve never won a match on this court before. He was a player I looked up at as a kid, I still do. You guys(crowd) were amazing.”
The next opponent for Kyrgios will be world no. 3 Grigor Dimitrov. Another big blockbuster in prospect. Be sure to follow Tennis-Pulse as we aim to bring the tennis right on your doorstep with recap articles such as these, live coverage and in-depth analysis of the biggest matches on the men’s ATP World tour. If you have something you want to share on this special match then don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.