Nick Kyrgios feeling like a title contender ahead of Wimbledon

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Gaining confidence: Nick Kyrgios.

When Nick Kyrgios is asked if he feels like a Wimbledon title contender this upcoming fortnight in south-west London, there is zero hesitation in his voice.

“Yes definitely,” he responds.

“For sure, if I put my mind to it and really focus, take it one match at a time. I feel like I’m physically a lot better than a couple of years ago, I’m much stronger. A lot of things have to fall into place but I’m going to take it one match at a time.”

One match at a time. That is a relatively new philosophy from Kyrgios, especially at Wimbledon – the site of his first major breakthrough, where he upset a top-seeded Rafael Nadal as a 144th-ranked 19-year-old back in 2014 en route to the quarter-finals.

Looking ahead when the draw comes out is something Kyrgios rarely avoided in the past.

“Usually at Wimbledon I’m looking straight ahead, usually look into third or fourth round and seeing if that person has a good chance to beat me or can play on grass,” says the Aussie.

“But this year I feel like – I mean [my first round opponent] Denis Istomin’s dangerous, he’s beaten Novak [Djokovic] in a major before which is incredibly tough to do, he can play at a Grand Slam, he loves the grass.

“I’m not looking forward at all. But I’m taking it one match a time definitely this year.”

It is perhaps a sign of a new and improved Kyrgios. One who has always known he has the game to contend at the Slams but is finally willing to knuckle down on the details to keep his focus over a complete fortnight.

The world No. 19, seeded 15 at Wimbledon, has never hid the fact that he hasn’t wanted tennis enough in the past, but he admits the elbow injury that kept him sidelined for most of the past five months has given him newfound appreciation for the competition and the sport.

“Right now I’m in such a good place, I’m healthy, I’m winning and it’s a good feeling, so I’m not going to take that for granted,” he said at Wimbledon on Saturday.

“When I was at tournaments [supporting girlfriend Ajla Tomljanovic] watching people win and compete it was obviously something I missed going out there and doing.”

Kyrgios is no longer feeling any pain in his elbow, a fact further proven by his eye-popping serving stats over the past few weeks (he hit 32 aces in each of his second round and quarter-final in Queens last week).

His grass-court preparation included back-to-back semi-final runs in Stuttgart and Queens, where he posted wins over the likes of Feliciano Lopez, Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund, and pushed Roger Federer to three sets.

“I think it’s the best I’ve felt, I’ve never really won many matches before Wimbledon so to come in this time playing two solid weeks against tough opponents, it’s probably the best I’ve ever felt about my game coming on the grass. But then again anything can happen. If someone can come out firing, that’s why I have to be ready to go from the get-go,” says the 23-year-old Kyrgios.

He believes of all the Slams, Wimbledon is his best shot at winning a major, but is aware he has only ever made two quarter-finals at this level in the past (2014 Wimbledon, 2015 Australian Open).

“Putting it together over two weeks isn’t something I’ve done before, and it’s not something many people have done. There’s always the select few that can do it, and hopefully, you never know, in two weeks’ time it could be my breakthrough, but I’m going to take it one day at a time, I’m not going to think ahead, I’m going to do all the right things every day,” he says when asked what the biggest challenge for him is this Wimbledon.

A small hip problem has reappeared in recent days but he insists it’s not hampering his performance and he’s getting treatment for it every day.

Looking back to his big moment against Nadal here at Wimbledon, does it feel a real major breakthrough has taken longer than expected?

“Yes and no. There are a lot of good tennis players. The tennis world is, I think it’s as strong as it’s ever been depth-wise,” said Kyrgios.

“You’ve got Feliciano Lopez who is ranked No. 70 in the world, probably one of the select few grass-courters who actually have a chance of doing really well at this event.

“The depth is so hard. And you’re playing tough matches. The way the seedings work, they protect the big guys so much that they’re fresh for the fourth round. It’s not easy for the guys ranked around 20 to really make an impact at a Slam and go past quarters.

“Hopefully, obviously I would have liked to have gone further than a quarter-final since then, but I feel like I haven’t done too terribly since then, I’ve made another quarter-final, I’ve made a couple of fourth rounds, so I’m slowly working on it.”

While Kyrgios sounds focused and hungry, it’s understandable that many choose to be reserved when assessing his chances at SW19. The Canberra-native has shown great promise in the past but has yet to prove he can keep it together over seven matches in two weeks.

“It’s difficult, very difficult to say,” Murray said of Kyrgios’ shot at the All England Club this year.

“I think there’s absolutely no reason why, with his game, and the way that he can serve. I mean, I think at Queens, I’m pretty sure he served in the two matches after he played me I think he served over 30 aces in back-to-back matches. It’s incredible to be able to do that nowadays because the courts are not unbelievably fast. He’s not just doing that on his first serve. He’s hitting huge second serves as well.

“If he’s able to focus for three, four hours at a time, do it over the space of two weeks, there’s no reason why he can’t compete. If you’re getting that many free points with your serve, they’re just aces. So 30 aces, let’s say in a two-set match, 24 points to win a set, that’s not including the ones that guys just touch and get a racquet on, you don’t actually have to win that many points, and play that many long rallies and stuff.

“There’s no reason why he couldn’t have a really good run here. But the mental side of the game, you know, is huge and extremely important. He needs to prove that.”

With something to prove, and a terrifying game, maybe now is the time Kyrgios finally brings it all together and delivers on the biggest stage.

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Rafael Nadal 'feeling good' ahead of Wimbledon

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Rafael Nadal says he is feeling good ahead of Wimbledon after pulling out of his scheduled warm-up event at Queen’s Club.

For the second year in a row, the Spaniard decided to stay at home in Majorca to practise after a heavy clay-court campaign ended with victory at the French Open.

Nadal, who is seeded second behind Roger Federer, said: “I’m feeling good. I decided to be here in Wimbledon again. It’s a very special event, of course. I always loved to be around here.

“It was not positive for me to not play Queen’s. I was sad to not have the chance to be there. On the other hand, I didn’t go there because I played a lot on clay. So I was very happy.

“I am not 20 any more. I have to take decisions on the schedule sometimes. The body needed a rest, needed a slow adaptation to adapt to the grass. That’s what I did.”

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Kei Nishikori believes Roger Federer isn't only contender at Wimbledon

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While many are tipping Roger Federer to capture a record-extending Wimbledon title this upcoming fortnight, Kei Nishikori believes there are others who have a real shot at lifting the title at SW19.

Nishikori, who has never made it past the fourth round at Wimbledon in any of his previous nine main draw appearances, admits he has his own struggles on grass – a surface where he has picked up multiple injuries in the part. But he tips other contenders to challenge Federer at the All England Club this year.

“I think Roger and Rafa [Nadal], those two are at a little different level this year. That’s for sure. But, you know, [Marin] Cilic is playing good. He can be really tough opponent on grass,” Nishikori told reporters at Wimbledon on Saturday.

“He did well last year, too. I mean, Dimi [Grigor Dimitrov] is also good player. I’m sure it’s going to be tough tournament because, you know, Stan [Wawrinka] is not seeded, and [Novak] Djokovic is not top-10 seeded.

“Yeah, I’m sure it’s going to be interesting tournament.”

Wawrinka, who had double knee surgery last August and has played just 14 matches in the last 11 months, is down to No. 225 in the world rankings and drew former semi-finalist Dimitrov in the first round.

Djokovic, a three-time Wimbledon champion, is seeded No. 12 here this year, as he continues to search for his top form.

Cilic is arguably the second favourite for the title having won Queens last Sunday – defeating Djokovic in the final, and having finished as runner-up at Wimbledon last year.

Wimbledon is the only Slam where Nishikori has yet to reach the quarter-finals.

The Japanese former US Open runner-up is seeded 27 in south-west London and opens his campaign against fellow Bradenton-based player, Christian Harrison, who qualified for his first Wimbledon by claiming three victories at Roehampton this week.

“I know him a lot actually,” Nishikori said of Harrison, who is the younger brother of world No. 58 Ryan Harrison. “We practice together all the time in the [IMG] academy. We grow up together. It’s not easy when you have to play with good friends.

“But, yeah, I hope I can enjoy the match. Actually first time to play him in an official match, so… It’s going to be exciting. Yeah, hopefully we both play good tennis.”

On his physical issues on the grass, Nishikori said: “I had couple injuries with this surface. You know, I been trying many different things for training off the court.

“Well, I think there is many stop and go here. You got to really use your legs. The point is quick, but it’s different than clay, so…

“Yeah, had a couple issues when I, you know, played this surface. I think I’m getting stronger. Hope this year is going to be okay.”

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