MIKE DICKSON: Who’ll be booed the most? Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios prepare for face-off


Novak Djokovic noticeably baulked on Friday night when informed Nick Kyrgios had described them as having an unlikely ‘bromance’.

Although the defending champion appreciated the support he had in January from his opponent in today’s Wimbledon final, it has not completely smoothed things out between them.

Kyrgios expressed sympathy for Djokovic’s plight when he was deported from Australia, but the Serb will struggle to forget previous attacks on his character from the same source.

Novak Djokovic will be hunting for a 21st Grand Slam title in Sunday’s main event

Nick Kygrios has caused a stir in this year's competition with his on-court antics

Nick Kygrios has caused a stir in this year’s competition with his on-court antics

That is one of the many fascinating dimensions to this afternoon, an encounter between two men who evoke strong opinions, even among relatively placid tennis types.

Both inspire strong loyalty among their fan bases, but neither would win broader popularity polls at SW19 or most places elsewhere in the tennis world.

Kyrgios’s quest to fulfil his unquestioned potential, and the underdog factor, will secure him some allegiances. Incredibly, someone described by Stefanos Tsitsipas a week ago as a ‘bully’ with ‘an evil side’ might end up getting more support from the Centre Court crowd.

That is one reason this could be one of the great Wimbledon finals. Equally it might turn out to be one of the worst.

Djokovic blew kisses to the crowd at Wimbledon after beating British No. 1 Cameron Norrie

Djokovic blew kisses to the crowd at Wimbledon after beating British No. 1 Cameron Norrie

One thing you could never accuse the Australian of is not openly speaking his mind. He called Djokovic ‘a tool’ on social media 18 months ago in a spat over Covid regulations.

Relations had sunk to their nadir in May 2019 when he gave his thoughts to the No Challenges Remaining podcast about the Serb.

‘I just feel like he has a sick obsession with wanting to be liked. He just wants to be like Roger Federer,’ said Kyrgios. ‘For me personally I feel like he just wants to be liked so much that I just can’t stand him. This whole celebration thing (blowing kisses to the crowd) that he does after matches, it’s so cringeworthy.’

There will have been others in the locker room thinking along similar lines, but none would dare express the view so candidly.

Both players have showcased their insane technical ability with theatrical 'tweener' shots

Both players have showcased their insane technical ability with theatrical ‘tweener’ shots

The Australian Kygrios has been called a 'bully' with 'an evil side' by his previous opponents

The Australian Kygrios has been called a ‘bully’ with ‘an evil side’ by his previous opponents

Kyrgios was not finished there, even decrying his own work ethic in taking down the then world No1.

‘He will never be the greatest for me. Simply because, I’ve played him twice and like, I’m sorry, but if you can’t beat me, you’re not the greatest of all time. Because if you look at my day-to-day routine and how much I train and how much I put in, it’s zero compared to him.’

The record to which Kyrgios refers is yet another interesting aspect to this afternoon which is, after all, a tennis match. He is one of only two currently active players with a winning head-to-head against Djokovic (the other, randomly, is Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic).

They have met twice before, in early 2017 within two weeks of each other. The first was at Acapulco in Mexico, then at Indian Wells in California.

Kyrgios won both in two tight sets, summoning up tremendous serving performances to power through the man rightly described as the best returner of serve ever seen. Acapulco was spectacular as he thumped 25 aces past Djokovic, more than one every three serves. This was a phase in the Australian’s career when he found it easier to get himself up for matches against the best, while struggling for motivation against lesser mortals.

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The two players shake hands after a tightly fought match in Acapulco, Mexico 2017

The two players shake hands after a tightly fought match in Acapulco, Mexico 2017

As Djokovic observed: ‘He’s a big-match player. If you see his career, the best tennis he’s played is always against the top guys. That’s why we all respect him, we know what he can come up with. As a tennis fan, I’m glad he’s in the final because he has so much talent. Everyone was praising him when he first came on the tour, expecting great things.’

In truth, the defending champion might not be so pleased to face him as he goes for his 21st Grand Slam title. At least if it had been even a fit Rafael Nadal, Djokovic would have known what to expect and known there was not the possibility of him being blown off the court.

Here he will have to deal with the rat-a-tat serving of Kyrgios, who likes to play at a ferociously quick tempo. Some of his service games last less than a minute.

Djokovic is yet to overcome his upcoming opponent - losing both two previous encounters

Djokovic is yet to overcome his upcoming opponent – losing both two previous encounters

Stand by for plenty of ball bouncing from Djokovic, who will happily stall proceedings against a notoriously impatient opponent.

We simply do not know what will happen. Kyrgios has had four days between matches, a lot of time to think, and that can be destructive for him. Equally, Djokovic was surprisingly nervous for the first 45 minutes against Cam Norrie on Friday. After that he gave a masterclass of controlled tennis.

Against Norrie, Djokovic understood the crowd would be for his opponent. It may rile him if it turns out the same thing happens against someone who has given plenty of reason over the years — and this fortnight — to dislike him.

Kyrgios traded friendly messages with Djokovic on social media one day before the final

Kyrgios traded friendly messages with Djokovic on social media one day before the final

Having bumped into each other at practice yesterday, the Australian used Instagram to ask: ‘We friends now?’

Djokovic responded: ‘If you are inviting me for a drink or dinner, I accept. P.S. Winner of tomorrow pays.’

Kyrgios agreed, posting: ‘Deal, let’s go to a nightclub and go nuts.’

According to one source, a Kyrgios victory today might see him retire on the spot. Win or lose, you would put nothing past him.



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