AUSTRALIAN Nick Kyrgios hailed a Batman fan for providing the inspiration behind his latest show-stopping exploits.
The 20-year-old treated supporters, including a raucous group of fans, to a thrilling reminder of why he might be the prince of the new power generation in men’s tennis.
Kyrgios may be a racquet-flinging, air-punching, windmill-waving player, but he is becoming a prince of the game all the same, and a four-set win over Milos Raonic emphasised his burgeoning talent.
He fired 34 aces in a 5-7 7-5 7-6 (7/3) 6-3 victory over the seventh seed, and backed up the big serves with an all-round game Raonic could not rival.
Kyrgios showed soft hands one minute, raw power the next, and on a roasting hot Court Two, showed his game is even sharper now than it was 12 months ago when he dumped out Rafael Nadal.
He finished off the match with a thumping forehand winner and looks to have the tools of a future Wimbledon champion.
But had it not been for the fan in the Batman T-shirt, Kyrgios might have been heading home to Canberra.
“He was just a fan. I thought he was key in the match,” Kyrgios said. “He was actually saying some really good things at crucial moments. I think he helped.”
Courtside coaching is banned when it comes from a member of a player’s entourage, and tips from spectators are probably best usually left alone.
But Kyrgios was motivated by the mystery man, adding: “Before I was serving, he always said something like, ‘Send down a bullet’. At that stage I’m thinking, ‘Let’s try to make it a really good first serve here’.”
Victory gave Kyrgios revenge for his defeat by Raonic in the quarter-finals last year and sets him up for a clash with another player he tackled 12 months ago, France’s Richard Gasquet.
A three-set victory over Grigor Dimitrov on Centre Court showed how well Gasquet can perform on grass, but he fell 10-8 in the fifth set to Kyrgios in round two last year so will know all about the looming threat.
Never one to let a match pass without incident, Kyrgios had a brief spat with another spectator.
“I thought she said something like, ‘Pull your head in’. She started laughing,” Kyrgios said.
“I didn’t really find it funny.
“It’s easy when you’re just sitting there and you’re just watching, when you’ve got no experience at all on the court.”
If he can stay focused, Kyrgios is equipped to go deep into the second week.
“I think if I play the right style of tennis, obviously if I’m serving well, feeling good out there, I think I can go close,” said the youngster from Canberra.
“I have a tough task ahead. Gasquet is playing some really good tennis. Beating Dimitrov in straight sets is not an easy task on the grass.”
Roger Federer spoke this week of the line of succession at the top of the men’s game, with the long-standing ‘Big Four’ of Federer himself, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray either individually beginning to creak or being right at the peak of their careers.
Before long there will be fresh faces in the top five, with world number 29 Kyrgios seemingly heading in that direction.
Raonic might find a fixed position there too, but the Canadian who beat Kyrgios in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon 12 months ago found his rival had refined his game in 12 months.
Their clash might have been perceived as a sharp contrast to the Centre Court purists’ paradise of Gasquet versus Dimitrov. To many it was a classicist’s Krakatoa, an eruption of giant serves and little else.
But that was not the truth of the matter. While tackling Raonic can be like facing a wall at times, Kyrgios found holes in the brickwork.
He tossed away the first set with a trio of double faults to the deuce court in the 12th game, but then began to motor, a stupendous whipped forehand tearing past Raonic early in the second set.
It set the tone for the rest of the contest, the multi-dimensional Kyrgios not only out-rallying Raonic but out-serving him too, something few opponents achieve. Raonic served 18 aces.
Winners flowed, backhand and forehand. Come match point, the forehand into the right corner left Raonic standing.
Asked why he appears to lift his game for the grand slams, Kyrgios found the answer to be elementary.
“I feel as if this is why we play the game,” he said. “This is why I play: the big, big stages.”
French Open champion Stan Wawrinka reached the fourth round of Wimbledon with a straight-sets victory over Fernando Verdasco.
The Swiss, who beat Verdasco 6-4 6-3 6-4, has never gone beyond the quarter-finals at the All England Club but this year he has yet to drop a set in three matches.
Next for the fourth seed will be David Goffin, the Belgian who saw off Liam Broady on Wednesday and followed up on Friday by beating Marcos Baghdatis.
Page 2: 17:23Wawrinka said: “I have the results so far. Three sets each match. That’s why I’m saying it’s perfect matches. In grand slams, you have to win and to win in three sets, it’s great.
“I’m playing better and better. I’ve been serving really well since the beginning of the tournament, being really aggressive.
“Today was a really solid match. I’m really happy with the match.”