Stefanos Tsitsipas accused Nick Kyrgios of being a bully and having a “bad side” after his four-set defeat in Saturday night’s heady third round.
He said: “It’s constant bullying, that’s what he does. He bullies the opponents. He was probably a bully himself at school. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like people who put other people down.
“He also has some good qualities in his character. But he also has a very bad side about him, which if exposed, it can really do a lot of harm and bad to the people around him.”
Fourth seed, Tsitsipas had won the first set, but about an hour later found himself on the brink of a meltdown, driven to distraction by the latest antics of enfant terrible tennis.
A 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 victory for the world No. 40 from Australia doesn’t tell a fraction of the story of a stormy match. At one point, Kyrgios even demanded that his opponent default after hitting a ball into the crowd, narrowly missing a spectator.
After behaving with choirboy-like restraint in his win over Filip Krajinovic in the previous round, this was the Australian who returned to histrionic type.
“People are here to see me, not you, mate,” Kyrgios told the referee halfway through his dramatic victory: “Don’t tell me what to do.”
Full of vociferous complaints, he was chewing and mumbling and stamping his feet during this never-before-told competition. And it must be admitted, the crowd of Court No 1 loved every moment of his villainous pantomime. Largely because he played great tennis in between the moans.
This was the great Kyrgios paradox: for every gobby moment of rebellion, he delivered a beautiful piece of skill. For every absurd self-aggrandizing moan he produced a sublime winner. Full of evil mischief, he is the true entertainer of tennis.
“Why don’t you just get a new referee?”
Indeed, it is difficult to know where to begin in describing this victory: with the lengthy debate he had with the umpires about the consequences his opponent would have to face if he struck a ball into the crowd, or with the careless destruction of the 130mph storage of Tsitsipas.
With his endless whining, or with his wonderfully daring drop shots. Anyway, it’s hard to argue that Kyrgios was the character at the center of the drama.
In the first set he started to mumble. In reality, it was a bad phone call that first made him leave. But instead of portraying it as one of those things, he stood right in the umpire.
“It’s always the same. Every game there are mistakes. So what, you can just say sorry and it’s all good? At five, in the first set of Wimbledon third round, he says sorry and it’s all good? Then get a new ref. Why not just buy a new one? Why? He’s got one rule, bro!”
The referee wisely chose to ignore such advice. But it didn’t stop Kygrios. Either in his lament or in his play. Just after his long moan, he won a service game to love, taking each delivery at a blinding pace.
And what made this such a compelling watch was that Tsitsipas himself was capable of some brilliant shots. A cross-court winner left Kyrgios flat-footed, robbed, not sure who to blame. These two were clearly made to compete.
At first, after his long nagging, it seemed like we were about to witness another Kyrgios self-immolation. He made a double fault in the first set tiebreak, giving his opponent the advantage and the set. He then threw an uncomplicated smash into the net.
But instead of collapsing, he really opened up in the second set. And this despite receiving an official warning when a linesman complained about his language. Perhaps not as elegant in his execution as Tsitsipas, yet he analyzed the corners of the court to perfection.
Sometimes he looked so lax, standing still on the baseline and tapping at the ball. But the shots he made completely belied his point of view. Smart, poised, perfectly positioned, he began to walk away. And what a winner he played to break Tsitsipas and win the second set.
He then got into an argument with the umpire because Tsitsipas reacted by hitting the ball into the crowd out of frustration. It didn’t hit anyone, but Kygrios stood straight into the official, wondering why there was no reproach.
“Send me your supervisor,” he told the referee. “I’m not going to continue playing until I get to the bottom of this. I want all the accompanists.”
Forty-one years after John McEnroe’s “you can’t be serious” outburst on the same court, Kyrgios paid tribute to the man who now sits in the BBC commentary box judging. Coincidentally, Tsitsipas was not disqualified – instead, he filed his own complaint about his opponent: “the gentleman takes up too much towel space”.
Kyrgios continued to play and almost immediately followed an ace up with an underarm serve that angrily swung his opponent into the crowd. This time Tsitsipas was admonished. And so it went on.
Dramatic, aggressive, unyielding: this got personal, Tsitsipas once deliberately hit a volley on his opponent’s chest. Kyrgios, it was clear, had now pitched his tent in his opponent’s head.
The Australian took the third set, but was able to come back twice when Tsitsipas threatened to react with set points in the fourth. The set evolved into a tiebreak, the momentum turned wild and both players produced some superb shots in their determination to win.
When Kyrgios won on his second match point, his party was deep, loud and long. And there were no hard feelings at the net as the couple exchanged a brief slap on the palm. In fact, Kyrgios was so happy with his win that he even shook hands with the referee.
“I’m just super happy to be through,” he said after the win. “He got frustrated sometimes, but it’s a frustrating sport. Whatever happens on the pitch, I love him.”
As for the crowd’s reaction, he knew exactly the cause. “Everywhere I go, I seem to have full stadiums. The media likes to say I’m bad for the sport, but clearly not.”
Kyrgios will face Brandon Nakashima in the next round. The American would be advised to bring his earplugs.