September 22, 2022

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It’s tough to play against one of the greatest tennis champions of all time.

It’s even tougher when it’s an event they have loved since they were a child and, at which, they have now won 28 straight matches.

Nick Kyrgios found that out firsthand on Wimbledon’s Centre Court on Sunday as Novak Djokovic broke his serve for the first time in their three meetings and then Kyrgios’s psyche as the Australian recorded a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) loss in the men’s singles final.

Kyrgios later said one of the key differences was facing one of tennis’s all-time greats over five sets instead of three.

“In a best-of-three match, you know you have no room to breathe,” Kyrgios said.

“Whereas, best-of-three those two previous times, I won the first set, I was right on top of him, and I kept pressing and pressing.”

While Djokovic defeated Kyrgios and claimed a seventh Wimbledon and 21st grand slam singles title, one thing Djokovic did not break was Kyrgios’s resolve.

Years ago when Kyrgios was in a darker place and less focused on his tennis that might have cracked, too, but — to his credit — he fought this match all the way to the end and pushed Djokovic to play some of his best tennis.

On court, Kyrgios described Djokovic as “a bit of a god” after the Serbian great put up a wall, making just 17 unforced errors for the match in a metronomical performance that signalled — after the nightmare that was the back end of 2021 and start of 2022 — Djokovic was back.

Still Kyrgios pushed him hard and was left to lament letting key chances slip, chief among them missing out on triple-break-back point as Djokovic served for the second set.

Nick Kyrgios is wearing a white hoodie and a red cap, holding up the runners-up trophy
The disappoitnment for Kyrgios was real.(AP: Alastair Grant)

Kyrgios knew he had wasted a gilt-edged opportunity.

“Obviously [I am] very disappointed,” Kyrgios said.

“I played a hell of a first set and put myself in a position to, you know, obviously take a stranglehold of the match.

“You look at what Novak has done to some other opponents, and it’s not a good feeling, but I’m right there. I’m not behind the eight ball at all. I played a slam final against one of the greatest of all time, and I was right there.”

Indeed Kyrgios was and, although he played the big points exceptionally well throughout the tournament, he let down in some of the bigger moments in this one, as Djokovic won two of the four break-point chances he had, and Kyrgios only managed one of six.

“Hats off to him,” Kyrgios said. “That was a hell of a match. I thought I served well. I put myself in a position to win, but I just wasn’t able to play those clutch points well at all today.”

The other momentum shift came at 4-4 in the third set, when Kyrgios let Djokovic back into a service game where he had a 40-0 lead. In the context of the match, it proved pivotal. Djokovic later called it a turning point.

“I didn’t win it, he lost that game with his unforced errors. I just stayed there and pushed him to the limit, and I got the reward.”

Kyrgios himself said the toughest thing for him was Djokovic’s relentless pressure.

It was a contrast that was easy to see. One player screaming at their box, the other largely stoic.

“He’s just really composed,” Kyrgios said. “I felt like he didn’t do anything amazing today, he returned, obviously, the way he returns. 

“He’s just a great returner, but he was just so composed.

“In big moments, it just felt like he was never rattled.

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