The Nick Kyrgios show, also known as Wimbledon, is taking another flat

WIMBLEDON, England – Going up against the tennis prowess of Nick Kyrgios, as soft as the hands of a powerful Australian masseuse, is difficult enough in itself.

However, this is only the beginning. Kyrgios, a practitioner of psychological warfare, may be even stronger.

The iconic, charismatic bad boy of the sport, whose antics stole the spotlight at Wimbledon, creates magic for the huge crowds that pack stadiums to watch his matches, even on Center Court at Wimbledon, that supposed temple of scenery.

Mid-rally, between-the-legs stunts, twisting and curling winners and anti-social theatrics force opponents to challenge Kyrgios and thousands of spectators looking for another episode of tennis’ most unpredictable and compelling show.

“Come on Nick!” They shout as if it was a friend playing darts in the pub.

His regular fights with officials erupt without warning and can resurface throughout the match. He knows how much he’s loved and hated, and when the Grand Slam tournament becomes the soap opera he’ll star in, as he has, his game is exactly where he wants it to be.

“I’m sitting here again right now in the Wimbledon quarterfinals and I just know there’s a lot of people who are so nervous,” he said on Monday after beating American Brandon Nakashima in five sets, 4-6, 6-4, 7. -6(2), 3-6, 6-2. “It feels good.”

Kyrgios has waged his own psychological battles through the extreme highs and lows of his volatile career. A few years ago, his agent had to pick him up from a pub at 4am because he had a match against Rafael Nadal that same day. He knows as well as anyone that tennis is as much a mental battle as it is a physical one, maybe even more so. He disrupts his opponent’s concentration, doing everything he can to force the guy behind the net to start thinking about the drama and not his game.

Here are the facts of Kyrgios’ fourth-round match against Nakashima, the towering, level-headed, 20-year-old American, which came two days after Kyrgios’ upset of Stefanos Tsitsipas, a circus of shouting matches with officials that so unnerved Tsitsipas. The fourth-seeded Greek star that he began trying to hit Kyrgios – and usually missing.

Midway through the first set against Nakashima, Kyrgios injured his right hand and shoulder while trying to return Nakashima’s serve. In the closing stages of the set, Kyrgios, whose cannon-like serve is among his most potent weapons, was clutching and massaging the area of ​​his right triceps muscle during transitions and between points.

After a few serves and forehands, he winced, swinging his arm repeatedly as if trying to stretch the joint and the muscles around it.

Unable to swing freely and unable to release it at nearly 140 mph as he had in his first three matches, Kyrgios stopped chasing and chasing balls. In the tenth game, Nakashima, playing with his trademark efficiency, repeatedly pounced on a shortened Kyrgios serve to take the first set 6-4. The young American looked like he was on cruise control.

The referee and tournament official asked Kyrgios if he was okay and if he needed medical attention. He dodged both, but by the start of the second set there was more shoulder gluing, more twisting, more arm rotation. Instead of a windmill, Kyrgios’ forehand has become a wrist whip that sends opponents running back.

Sometimes there is nothing more difficult than playing against an injured opponent. Players tell themselves not to change anything, to play as if everything is normal. But the mind can instinctively relax, suggesting not hitting the next forehand so close to the line or so hard, as it may not be necessary against a weakened opponent.

On Monday afternoon, Nakashima couldn’t ignore the tap on Kyrgios’ shoulders or his much slower-than-usual walk from one side of the court to the other for the second point.

The more Kyrgios rubbed that shoulder, the more miserable Nakashima became. He missed seven of eight first serves in the third game of the second set, then missed a forehand on break point and suddenly Kyrgios had the momentum.

And then the numbers on the scoreboard that tracked Kyrgios’ serve speed began to climb, from 110 to 120 miles per hour and up from there. And the blasted hands reappeared. Serving late in the set, Kyrgios hit 137 and 132 on the radar gun. After a few minutes it was all even.

In the third set, Nakashima retreated. Midway through the serve, Kyrgios called for a physical therapist and a medical timeout. As Kyrgios received a massage, Nakashima got up from his chair and performed shadow exercises facing the stands instead of Kyrgios.

Back on court, Kyrgios once again served at 120mph, extending his lead in the tiebreaker with a 129mph ace before winning it with a forehand return.

“He was still serving well after the medical timeout, still taking the ball, so I don’t think it was that big of an injury,” said Nakashima, who had no answer to Kyrgios’ serve or forehand in the third-set tiebreaker.

That shoulder drama — Kyrigos later described it as one of his “bastards” he was treating with painkillers — is over.

Another set, another mind game. Kyrgios, serving at 5-3, could have won the match and given Nakashima a set to serve Kyrgios first in the decider.

Not so much. How about three serves in the 75 mph range, one forehand and a forehand on set point, so clearly aimed out of the court? (Hit the target.) Was Kyrgios leaving now?

“End the rope dope tactics,” Kyrgios said. “I just threw that service game. I knew he was in rhythm. He was starting to get on top of me. I just wanted to throw it off a little bit.” it worked.

Aces and runs aside, he shaved the grass perfectly in his first service game.

There were challenges on calls he thought were wrong, and a few on his shots that clearly stood out. Nakashima, serving at deuce at 1-1, gave Kyrgios an opportune time to start jawing with the chair umpire. He then hit a backhand for a break point and hit a backhand backhand to force an error for a break of serve.

And it was basically curtains from there. A 134 mph serve put Kyrgios up 5-2. A surprise second serve and volley on match point sealed it.

The Chilean Cristian Garin, ranked 43rd in the world, is in the quarterfinals. The show goes on, and may well go on.

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