‘Really uncomfortable’: Nick Kyrgios beats good friend Thanasi Kokkinakis at US Open

As Nick Kyrgios produced a performance as sparkling as the necklace he wore reflecting the lights of the big city of New York on Monday night, it was hard to believe he felt unnerved. The Aussie played with the perfect sizzle for a historic occasion, playing with the panache of a matinee idol in complete control of the big screen in his clash against Thanasi Kokkinakis.

Serena Williams’ impending retirement had drawn record crowds to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center and the opening act of the farewell to an American icon drew rave reviews. A regular showstopper for performances ranging from the sublime to the surreal, Kyrgios was instead chosen as the best supporting actor for New York’s most stellar opening nights.

The 23rd seed played the part perfectly, displaying his vast repertoire in a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) triumph without eclipsing the star attraction, even in the fashion stakes. As glittery as Canberran’s necklace was, it also played second fiddle in the ensemble worn by Williams, who danced on Arthur Ashe Stadium sporting diamonds on the soles of her shoes.

It has now been seven years since Kyrgios shared equal billing with Williams on a billboard attached to a building in the borough of Queens, positioned to capture the attention of tens of thousands of fans flocking to Flushing Meadows and workers commuting to Manhattan daily. grind. Such was the box office appeal of Kyrgios, who had reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and Melbourne Park in the 14 months leading up to the 2015 US Open, he seemed destined to become the prime time idol. on Arthur Ashe Arena that Williams has proven for 25 years.

With his recent run to the final at Wimbledon and his consistent performance since briefly slipping out of the top 100 earlier this year, he could still provide more than an appearance or two on this great ground. Watching Williams from the players’ lounge as she beat Danka Kovinić ahead of the clash with her childhood sidekick, Kyrgios said it was impossible not to be inspired by the tennis queen.

“Just the buzz that she brought, you know, breaking the story with the number of people watching and buying tickets, it’s amazing,” he said. “That’s my goal, to grow the sport as much as possible. I hope Serena can carry on and I can carry on too. To play one of my… best friends after Serena’s eventual last game, with record attendance, It’s madness. A night I’ll never forget. My 200th win too. It was good.”

Despite the significance of the scene, there was a bittersweet element to this encounter. In 2013, when Kyrgios edged out his young compatriot to win the Australian Open men’s title, it seemed likely the duo would become regular fighters in contention for major titles. They moved like young giraffes, their legs still spindly and their bodies not yet fully mature, but it was already evident from their serves and forehands that they were talents to watch.

Roger Federer was among those to take note. He invited the two on a trip abroad to train with him. The sponsors had jumped on the pair long before this junior final in Melbourne. The transition from junior success to senior stardom is tough, but both Aussies have started their careers extremely well. The two defeated the Swiss superstar. But the pair have also endured more than their fair share of physical and mental setbacks.

There were some highlights, none more so than the Australian Open doubles crown they shared in January, but the tennis really tested them both. They had already played in the minors when they were still children, but Monday night was their first outing against each other as men. And although Kyrgios handled the situation better, it was a difficult experience for both of them.

“Our lockers are side by side [and] I walked over to the Thanasi and said, “Listen, that was the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt on a tennis court,” Kyrgios said. “We went through some things together when I was really struggling. He was always supportive. I sleep with him. He always cared. I saw him withstand all his wounds. We just have respect off the pitch, which trumps everything on the pitch. But it was really uncomfortable. I don’t want to do it again, to be honest.

Kokkinakis is focused on doubles and must wait another year for a chance to post a deep Grand Slam run that Kyrgios and several others are confident he can handle. His conqueror now faces Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi on Wednesday and Kyrgios expressed his fatigue at going back on tour by speaking after midnight in New York.

But in a city where he has caused his share of controversy, the Wimbledon runner-up now senses an opportunity. “It’s just another challenge I have to face. Last stop here before home, so… let’s see what we can do here,” he said.

‘Really uncomfortable’: Nick Kyrgios beats good friend Thanasi Kokkinakis at US Open

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