Sports

Kyrgios, Under a Hotter Spotlight, Stays Quiet and Wins Again

WIMBLEDON, England — The tennis career of Nick Kyrgios has long been an exercise in torture and turmoil, featuring battles with tennis officials, rivals, the news media, alcohol and a psyche that never seems at peace, even when he swears it is. Kyrgios said he contemplated suicide in 2019.

Given all that, Wednesday afternoon at the All England Club looked to be filled with land mines in every direction. On the surface, Kyrgios’s only task was to beat Cristian Garin, a steady but middling Chilean player known more for his efforts on clay courts. Simple enough, seemingly, for someone whose innate tennis talents appear to be nearly limitless.

Kyrgios, though, has often combusted on the biggest stages. He was playing in a Grand Slam quarterfinal match for the first time since 2015 — he has never made a major semifinal — just 24 hours after a former girlfriend had accused him of assaulting her in Australia last December.

For all the troubles Kyrgios, a 27-year-old Australian, has faced on and off the court since he first broke into the top ranks of pro tennis as a teenager, this was something else.

“I feel like I’m in ‘The Last Dance,’” Kyrgios a huge N.B.A. fan who often wears Jordan Brand clothing, said to his physiotherapist Tuesday as he left a practice court, referencing the documentary about the melodrama surrounding the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls.

That had been all anyone outside of his tight circle had heard Kyrgios say. He left the rest to his legal team, which said he was taking the allegations seriously but declined to address them in any detail until prosecutors decide to formally pursue a charge.

Kyrgios is due in court to face the allegations on Aug. 2, a time when under normal circumstances he might be playing the summer hard court season in North America and preparing for the U.S. Open. After the hearing, law enforcement officials will decide whether to pursue a formal charge of common assault.

Kyrgios’s former girlfriend, Chiara Passari, told police Kyrgios grabbed her during a domestic dispute in December.

On the advice of his lawyers, Kyrgios declined to comment on the allegations in the news conference after his match Wednesday.

“I have a lot of thoughts, a lot of things I want to say, kind of my side about it,” he said. “Obviously I’ve been advised by my lawyers that I’m unable to say anything at this time. I understand everyone wants to kind of ask about it and all that, but I can’t give you too much on that right now.”

Pierre Johannessen, a lawyer for Kyrgios, said in a statement Tuesday evening that Kyrgios “is committed to addressing any and all allegations once clear, taking the matter seriously does not warrant any misreading of the process Mr. Kyrgios is required to follow.”

Kyrgios declined to say when he had learned about the allegations and the summons, which became public when the Canberra Times in Australia broke the news.

Also, he notably did not deliver the sort of strenuous denial that Alexander Zverev, another tennis player who has also faced allegations of assaulting a former girlfriend, has at major tournaments.

“I understand you want me to give you the answers,” Kyrgios said when asked if he planned to appear in court or if he knew of the accusations before Wimbledon. “I can’t. I can’t speak anymore on the issue.”

Kyrgios spat at a fan in the first round and bickered with his opponent in the third.Credit…Sebastien Bozon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Kyrgios said the 24 hours following the accusations becoming public had been difficult but he did not feel it had affected his play.

“Obviously seeing it — I’m only human,” he said. “Obviously I read about it and obviously everyone else was asking questions. It was hard. It was hard to kind of just focus on kind of the mission at hand.”

During the past 10 days, Kyrgios had become a fan favorite at Wimbledon, mixing the best of a sublime game packed with power and showboating trick shots with behavior that ran the gamut from boorish and profane to gross.

He spat in the direction of a fan during his tense five-set, first-round win. He baited the No. 4 seed, Stefanos Tsitsipas, into losing his cool and the tennis match in their third-round duel, carrying on with the chair umpire until Tsitsipas got so angry hitting Kyrgios with the ball became as important to him as hitting winners.

When the matches ended, he took on journalists who questioned his behavior or his violations of Wimbledon’s all-white dress code, and even went after vanquished opponents. After Tsitsipas called him a “bully,” he said the Greek star was “soft” and no one on the tour liked him. Then came the assault allegations.

The crowds never left him though, and they were there from before the start of the match until after the end of win, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5), over Garin, a businesslike, almost anticlimactic affair, considering all that was swirling. It earned Kyrgios a semifinal showdown with the 22-time Grand Slam singles champion Rafael Nadal on Friday.

“I didn’t see something weird during the match,” Garin said of Kyrgios.

This time around, so far at least, the turmoil hasn’t gotten the better of either his brain or his game. If anything, it has quieted the confrontations. And may be bringing out the best of his tennis. Part of what drives him, Kyrgios has said, is to prevail over all the naysayers and critics who view him as the antithesis of the sport’s mythic gentility.

Kyrgios’s three-set win Wednesday was as routine as any on the tournament, a stark contrast to the controversy off the court. In the Kyrgios box, his father, girlfriend, agent, and physiotherapist rose after every point. Ever the iconoclast, Kyrgios plays without a coach.

Fans welcomed Kyrgios onto the No. 1 Court with a throaty roar. Throughout the match, wails of “Come on, Nick” echoed through the stands. In the few tense moments, the “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Oy, Oy, Oy,” cheer sounded, too.

Kyrgios will face Rafael Nadal, a 22-time Grand Slam singles tournament champion, in the semifinals. They’ve played nine times, including at Wimbledon in 2014.Credit…Alberto Pezzali/Associated Press

Garin broke Kyrgios’s serve at love in the opening game and won the first nine points of the match, prompting Kyrgios to shrug his shoulders and start the running dialogue with his box that lasted all afternoon. He quickly settled in though, drawing even by the middle of the set, as he stepped up the velocity on his serve and his powerful forehand, running him around the court.

With Garin serving to stay in the first set, Kyrgios pressured him into a series of errors, to get to triple set point, and then one more to take the early advantage. The second set brought more of the same. An early break of serve, a bump or two to give Garin a chance to get back even, some back and forth with his posse for support, and then ultimately, an ace to take a commanding lead.

He and Garin traded service games for the better part of an hour in the third set, but even though Garin had three chances to break Kyrgios’s serve and force him and his tiring legs to play longer, there was never much of a sense that Garin could win a set, much less three. Every time Kyrgios needed a point, he found a big enough serve, or his hard, flat backhand, or a whippy, nasty forehand to get him over the hump.

Late in the tiebreaker, Kyrgios came to the middle of the net, and gave Garin three short chances to put the ball past him. He stabbed the first two back then watched Garin hit the third into the middle of the net. A point later, Garin miss-hit a backhand wide and Kyrgios collapsed to his back, a Grand Slam semifinalist for the first time, amid the eeriest and tensest of environments.

Next up is Nadal, and with Kyrgios, who knows what else.

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