When Nick Kyrgios was asked to list his greatest strengths, the young Australian took the sarcastic route.
“My unbelievable movement, my returns, and my mental strength,” Kyrgios told reporters at the US Open on Thursday, listing what he knows are his main weaknesses.
A lingering hip injury has troubled Kyrgios all season. To compensate for the bad hip, both his knees have started to hurt, and he says he’s been getting cortisone shots every two days to be able to compete.
While his serve is the most devastating part of his game, he’s only been winning 32 per cent of his return points against the first serve, 51 per cent on the second.
As for his mental strength, his struggles in that department have been well-documented, with the most recent incident taking place on Thursday during his second round against Pierre-Hugues Herbert, where Kyrgios didn’t show up until umpire Mohamed Lahyani got out of his chair and gave him a pep talk, encouraging him to play and avoid tanking. From a set and 0-3 down, Kyrgios rallied and won in four. But the first set and a half were the perfect example of how tough it can be for him sometimes to be present in his matches.
One opponent who always manages to bring the best out in Kyrgios is Roger Federer, and lucky for the US Open crowd, the pair will square off in a mouth-watering third round on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday.
They’ve played each other three times, with eight of the nine sets contested going to a tiebreak. All three encounters finished 7-6 in the third. Saturday will be their first showdown in a best-of-five format, which Kyrgios admits will pose a different kind of challenge.
“We have never played before best-of-five. Yeah, for sure, to win three sets off Federer, you have to play some pretty consistent tennis. But he’s never played me best of five, either,” noted Kyrgios.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun. I definitely know that I won’t be the favourite, the crowd favourite here. I go into that match with zero expectation. I do believe I can beat him. I have done it before. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Kyrgios is one of just two players – alongside his compatriot Lleyton Hewitt – to defeat Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in their first tour-level match-ups.
He admits that being the underdog in these clashes helps, but it’s also evident that they are matches where he tends to try his hardest.
Kyrgios has spent time with Federer off the court promoting the Swiss’ Laver Cup competition. The 23-year-old says Federer’s chip return is his greatest asset and the best that ever existed in the game.
“I think if you took that shot away, he wouldn’t be as good because he neutralises big serves as well. He turns it into pretty much instant offense,” explains Kyrgios.
Federer is well aware of Kyrgios’ exceptional talent and was recently asked by John McEnroe if he felt he was the right person to take the young Aussie aside and “talk some sense into him”.
“That’s what John thought. I think a player can always ask any other player for advice, then it’s the other player’s choice to give advice or not,” said Federer.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be an older guy or anything. It could be just I’m playing Nick tomorrow, I can ask Robin Haase, ‘What do you think about how Nick plays?’ Yesterday I practiced with somebody who asked me, ‘What do you think about my game?’ I give advice.
“I think we do it all the time as players. In Nick’s situation, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m sure he asks around. He’s a clever guy. He knows what he needs to do to get to winning ways. He’s won his two matches here, so things are going well for him. I think it’s more of a hypothetical question which only stirs up stuff that we shouldn’t be talking about.”
Federer is searching for his first US Open crown since 2008, and sixth overall while Kyrgios has never made it past the third round in New York.
The second-seeded Swiss is 2-1 head-to-head against Kyrgios and has been in fine form so far this tournament. He hit a whopping 56 winners in his first round against Yoshihito Nishioka and has spent less than four hours on court through his opening two matches.
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