A grieving Nick Kyrgios advanced to the second round of the Madrid Open on Monday with a 7-6 (1), 6-4 win over Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.
The 22-year-old Aussie had pulled out of the Estoril Open last week so he could attend his grandfather’s funeral in Canberra and only made it to Madrid after he was urged by his family to play.
He fired 14 aces and faced zero break points in his 77-minute win over Baghdatis, but confessed that it’s been difficult keeping his head in the game so soon after his grandfather’s passing.
“It was tough, obviously a lot going on the last week and a half. I haven’t really trained much, it was really tough,” Kyrgios told Sport360° after the match.
“Didn’t really know if I was going to play this week. I didn’t really have high expectations this week. I feel very rusty on the court, I played some doubles yesterday with Jack (Sock), he somehow carried me for the win there. I’m happy to be back out here but obviously my mind isn’t fully invested in tennis at the minute. It’s tough.”
Asked on what pushed him to play Madrid, the young Aussie said: “I guess family. Just my family. They thought ‘you should play, you’ve got a lot of big tournaments coming up’. It was a tough decision. Honestly I wanted to stay home. But ultimately I’m a tennis player, so you know I can’t keep missing tournaments I guess.”
Kyrgios, seeded No16 in the Spanish capital where he awaits either Bernard Tomic or Ryan Harrison in the second round, is having a strong 2017 where he has amassed a 16-4 win-loss record, has made the semi-finals in Marseille, Acapulco, and Miami, and has beaten Novak Djokovic twice.
The world No20 remains uncertain about his own expectations this clay swing but remains hopeful he can replicate the success he’s had earlier in the season.
“Honestly I don’t know yet. I’m just trying to get through every day, one by one, and we’ll see. Hopefully if I’m playing the level I was playing about a month ago in the States, then you know I can do some good things,” said Kyrgios. “But we’ll see. I’m certainly not at that level at the moment. I haven’t really hit in the last two, three weeks, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Maria Sharapova rued her missed opportunities in her three-set defeat to Eugenie Bouchard in the Madrid Open second round on Monday and dismissed any suggestions that the hype around the match and around the Russian’s return to tennis may have been a distraction.
Sharapova faced off with Bouchard after the Canadian had called her a cheater who deserved a lifetime ban from the sport.
Bouchard, the Russian’s most vocal critic, admitted she had extra motivation to beat Sharapova, and was inspired by players who wished her luck in the locker room before the match. Sharapova however insists she remains unaffected by such comments.
“Not from my end. Every match at this point is important. I’m just one of the two players that’s out on the court. Everything that surrounds myself, I don’t really know a lot of it. I don’t pay attention to much of it,” she said when asked if the circus that has erupted around her since her return from suspension has been a distraction.
“I’ve been part of this game for many years. I know what the drill is. I know the excitement. I know there’s always a lot of talk and buzz, matchups, rivalries, news. It’s all part of the game. But at the end of the day, it’s just two athletes competing against each other, and I’m one of them. That’s how I treat this game.”
Sharapova was up a break in the first set before she dropped it to Bouchard and despite firing 44 winners, committed 49 unforced errors and could only convert five of the 15 break point opportunities she created.
“I definitely thought I should have taken care of the first set,” said Sharapova. “I had a letdown, being up a break. I was happy with the way I changed things around in the second, stepped in, was a little bit more aggressive inside the baseline. Then the third, kind of felt like it was a similar pattern: set up opportunities, breakpoints, and just did not convert them today.
“I absolutely don’t think I served smart today, especially when I was up, going for a few more free points, not getting myself in the rallies, which I thought I was winning most of the time.”
It was just Sharapova’s sixth match into her comeback from a 15-month doping ban. While she is undoubtedly grateful to be back competing again, the sting of defeat remains a big disappointment.
“I think I would be worried about myself if I sat here and said I’m pretty happy with losing a tennis match, no matter who I face, no matter what round it is, whether it’s the first round or final of a Grand Slam,” said Sharapova. “You know, I’m a big competitor. What you work for for so many hours every single day is to be on the winning end of matches. Today was just not that day.
“Of course, I’m disappointed. That’s what’s going to make me a better player. That’s what’s going to win me more tournaments and more Grand Slams.”
Eugenie Bouchard says she felt “inspired” by the unexpected support she got from the locker room before her match with Maria Sharapova, and that is was one of her “prouder matches in the past couple years”.
The Canadian former world No5 was happy to back up her strong comments against Sharapova with victory over her in the Madrid Open second round on Monday night. Bouchard, who called Sharapova a “cheater” that shouldn’t be allowed back in the sport, claimed a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 win over the former world No1.
It was the best tennis Bouchard has managed to produce since her breakthrough 2014 season that saw her reach No5 in the world, before suffering a collapse and slipping in the rankings.
“I definitely had some extra motivation going into today,” admitted Bouchard after her win. “Obviously I had never beaten her before (in four matches). Also given the circumstances…
“I was actually quite inspired before the match because I had a lot of players coming up to me privately wishing me good luck, players I don’t normally speak to, getting a lot of texts from people in the tennis world that were just rooting for me.
“So I wanted to do it for myself, but also all these people. I really felt support.”
Bouchard is one of a fairly small group of players who have openly spoken out against Sharapova in light of her failed drugs test and subsequent suspension. The Canadian was the harshest though, saying Sharapova deserves a lifetime ban.
The 23-year-old Bouchard believes many players share her views but simply haven’t said it publicly.
“It’s just some girls in the locker room are coming up to me and really wishing me good luck before matches, which doesn’t normally happen to me. Players I don’t normally speak to is more what I said,” Bouchard said.
“It showed me that most people have my opinion, and they were just maybe scared to speak out. But privately, you know, I’ve gotten a lot of support, so… I was inspired and motivated to play.”
Bouchard and Sharapova battled for two hours and 51 minutes in what was a high-intensity, high-quality affair.
They hit a combined 64 winners – 44 off the Sharapova racquet – and had 36 break points between them.
“It definitely helps when you can back it up,” Bouchard said when asked if she felt she needed to walk the walk, having talked the talk ahead of the match.
“Obviously, there was a lot going on besides tennis in this match, as well. As soon as I stepped on the court, I really just wanted to make it about tennis. We both did that. We just battled our hearts out, I think.”
Bouchard had lost five tour-level first rounds in a row heading into Madrid and her victory over Alize Cornet in the first round was her first (tour-level) since the Australian Open in January.
She is ranked No60 in the world and was bageled in the quarter-finals of an ITF tournament last month.
Her form against Sharapova on Monday was a far cry from what we’ve seen from her for the past two years.
“Overall, with the whole mental aspect, just fighting and playing almost a three-hour match, the physical battles, I mean, she’s playing really well right now. Everything together, for sure, it’s one of my more prouder matches in the past couple years,” she said of her performance against Sharapova.
Bouchard next faces German top seed Angelique Kerber in the third round on Wednesday. Players often suffer letdowns after pulling off massive wins and the Canadian is hoping she avoids that.
“Yeah, that’s a very valid point. I want to maybe rest my brain a little bit, not think about it too much for tomorrow. I have the day off, which is good,” she said.
“I want to go for it. I’m the underdog, by far. It’s nice to have this position these past couple years. So I want to at least take advantage of that, just go for it, play good tennis, build on this, and enjoy it, kind of just show what I can do.
“Yeah, just go for it.”
Bouchard was seen mouthing “just go for it” before her last serve of the match against Sharapova. She did. And it paid off. She’ll need a lot more of that against Kerber.