LONDON: Wimbledon has a new hero and, of all people, it is Nick Kyrgios, after the incredible sulk transformed himself into the Clown Prince during a hugely entertaining five-set victory over fellow Australian Jordan Thompson on Tuesday.
They had queued early to see Kyrgios, many no doubt hoping for some high voltage fireworks from a player who has the longest rap sheet in the game. But by the time he triumphed 7-6 (4) 3-6 7-6 (10) 0-6 6-1 in an extraordinary contest, they were putty in his hands.
Only once did he lose his cool and belt a ball into the sky while chuntering about a bad call. The rest of the time he was more reminiscent of Henri Laconte playing an exhibition match - both in terms of crowd interaction and shot choice.
He must have played 30 drop shots, despite almost every one of them failing to yield a point. He threw in a bewildering array of slices and dices while also pounding down artillery ground strokes and power serves.
He somehow lost the fourth set to love in 18 minutes - less time than he took to win a marathon 12-10 tie break in the third. He served a 120 mph ace on second serve on game point at 5-4 down in the first set. There was the mandatory under-arm serve, a half-court lap of honour after winning a key point in a tie break, repeated collapses to the floor in mock - or perhaps real - exhaustion and genuine praise for the good shots of his opponent.
AWAITING THE EXPLOSION
His reward is a potentially mouth-watering second-round clash with Rafa Nadal, the number 3 seeded Spaniard he has described as "super salty", in a match that will severely test the allegiance of the Wimbledon fans.
They were fully behind him on Tuesday, however, almost from the start. There was a hush of expectation when he was called for a foot fault while serving on break point down in the first set - but the explosion did not come.
He recovered to take the set and recognised the good play of his compatriot - "hell of a volley" "great lob" - while losing the second. Up or down in the match, Kyrgios seemed to be enjoying himself immensely - which appeared to discombobulate his opponent as much as his varied serves, which frequently left him wrong-footed and appealing to the skies for guidance.
The third set tie-breaker was a classic, swinging both ways, though with Kyrgios always seemingly on top. Which made his fourth set collapse even more inexplicable. He did not "tank" it, as he has so often before, but he certainly seemed to consider it gone after being broken twice.
He was re-energised for the fifth, cutting down - though frustratingly not entirely getting rid of - the high-risk, low-reward drop shots and really finding his range with his powerful forehand.
The antitheses of short-hitching, multi-bouncing Nadal, Kyrgios`s service action was so quick that the ball boys, and Thomson, were almost never in place as he was ready to go - something that might cause some fun if the two men do meet in the second round.
It eventually proved too much for Thompson, who has now lost in the first round on all four of his appearances, as Kyrgios eventually ran away with the fifth set.