The first week of Wimbledon is often seen as an exercise in trimming the draws down to the best players – the top seeds are unlikely to meet anyone who should cause them serious stresses, and although there will always be shocks, the real contenders usually breeze through. The biggest surprise this year so far has been 15-year-old Coco Gauff knocking out Venus Williams, and as the five-time champion’s best days are decidedly behind her, even that wasn’t a huge shock. However, today sees the first potentially explosive encounter, with two-time winner Rafael Nadal facing off against the unseeded, but dangerous, Nick Kyrgios.
The players have met here once before, in 2014. Back then, Kyrgios was ranked 144 in the world and his opponent was at the very top. Although considered fallible on grass, Nadal was expected to emerge victorious from their last-16 encounter. However, the Australian fired off 37 aces on his way to a 3-1 win. That was the first of six head-to-head meetings the stars have had, and the overall record sees them tied at three wins each. Coming in to this match, then, there is arguably little to choose between the two players. And yet…
”There’s a reason he is where he is”
Nick Kyrgios’ talent is in no doubt, and he has all the ability necessary to be in the world’s top ten – few people would argue with that statement. His career record against Nadal is better than all but a few, elite players. However, it’s also true that he has never really lived up to his potential. The reasons for that are more complicated, although it is certainly true that he has been subjected to a level of racism bordering on the cartoonish from within Australian tennis. His own argumentative personality can be seen as – at least in part – a reaction to the often unfair criticism he has received.
There’s also the fact that Kyrgios and Nadal have some history. The players have admitted that their personalities don’t mesh very well, and a recent statement from the Mallorcan indicated that, given Kyrgios’ unquestionable talent, non-tennis factors may be to blame for his low ranking. This hasn’t gone down well with the younger man, who has spoken of the frosty relations between the two, and it’s impossible not to view this as a grudge match. That in itself may be a reason why the Australian – who is known to lose interest when a match starts going against him – could redouble his efforts today. It’s unlikely this will be a match where Kyrgios backs down. We wouldn’t expect it to all be done in three sets – taking BetVictor’s odds of 15/8 on a four-set match may be the smart wager here.
Nine years is a long time in tennis
The epic men’s singles final of 2008, where Nadal led Roger Federer by two sets to love, then lost the next two before winning a pulsating final set as the light faded, seemed to mark a watershed in the Spanish player’s career. Considered by many to be a clay specialist, a Wimbledon win over the then five-time reigning champion marked the moment where Nadal was considered an all-surface great. His win in 2010 showed it was no fluke. However, “El Toro” has never managed to pick up a third Wimbledon title and the list of players to knock him out of the competition over the years (Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis, Dustin Brown) indicates a regression on the surface.
Last year’s run, where he took eventual winner Novak Djokovic to an eighteen-game final set, shows that Nadal can still run with the best on Centre Court. Arguing against that is the fact that Kyrgios, if he plays to the level he can do, has a game that works better on grass than the World #2. This is liable to be a close match which could go to five sets, and is unlikely to see many one-sided sets. Unibet have 11/10 on there being more than 40.5 games played in the match, and that seems like a smart bet; this could be an epic of the sort you don’t often see at this stage of the tournament.
Bookies’ odds may be unfair to Kyrgios
Without a shadow of a doubt, the difficulties Nick Kyrgios has encountered throughout his career affect the way he is judged by experts and even by bookmakers. All of the odds have him as the significant outsider for this match, yet analysis of the players’ head-to-head history and a single glance at the outcome when the players met here five years ago tell a different story. It would be hard to be genuinely surprised at a win for the Australian in this meeting. One can point to his history of results that don’t match up to his talent as a reason for the disparity. However, when he has faced Nadal, only the Spaniard’s 6-2 6-1 win in Beijing two years ago was one-sided.
Add to that the fact that Kyrgios won when the players met – despite showing signs of illness and dropping the first set – a performance that Kyrgios has credited with renewing his confidence. Nadal’s greater experience, and his businesslike dispatching of Yuichi Sugita in Round One, mean we just about expect him to come out on top here. We would however advise hedging a little, by taking Paddy Power’s odds of 6/5 on a Nadal win with both players taking at least a set. Their 7/2 on Kyrgios to win seems generous to us, but on balance we’d still expect it to be a losing bet, so the smarter bet is the one at shorter odds.
Bets of the Day
More than 40.5 games in match (Unibet, 11/10); Nadal wins, both players win a set (Paddy Power, 6/5); Four sets in match (BetVictor, 15/8)