It took a day and a half for the Australian Open 2022 to finally kick into life. Unsurprisingly it took Mr K, Nick Kyrgios, to up the ante.
Monday was routine, bland even at times: Wins for Ash Barty and Rafa Nadal, minimal upsets.
Tuesday daytime was little different although there was a swell of goodwill behind Sam Stosur in her three-set victory over Robin Anderson but it was warming more than bracing.
Andy Murray set a wilder tone with a rousing five-set win over 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, but it was in truth little more than a hors d’oeuvre for the main man.
And a night with Nick Kyrgios is different. Very different.
He transforms the way tennis is perceived, is played and is consumed.
It is sport as theatre, the crowd as much a part as the players as Kyrgios urges them on, ignores them, involves them and incites them.
“I know I have the crowd in the palm of my hand,” said Kyrgios post match on John Cain Arena (JCA).
Your front row seat to the @NickKyrgios show 🤩
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 18, 2022
When he wants them to go nuts to help him, he’ll do whatever he can to achieve that, he said.
Every AO it seems he is consigned to the naughty step before he has hit a ball in anger.
JCA sits at the far end of Melbourne Park, a standalone basketball venue more often than tennis.
Perhaps that helps Kyrgios, all being well he’d rather be a basketballer he has mused many times.
And despite the image with Kyrgios, it’s not all anger either.
The man is, at times, on a different planet. He doesn’t seem to care but does.
He helped with the bushfire appeals two years back by pounding down as many aces as he could that January at $200 a pop.
He bags Novak Djokovic, his great foe, and then bigs him up when everyone is sticking the knife in during the visa saga.
Even Rafa has been on his sharp end. Anyone who has incurred the Spaniard’s glare in a media interview room will know this take some balls.
And, on Sunday, he quite literally jetted in post COVID isolation release from Sydney. No economy or business-class nonsense, the private platinum route only.
Kyrgios, before last night, had not played this year.
Throw in that he lost his last five matches of 2021 and his preparation was woeful. Even the coronavirus, which had him bedridden for two days last week, can’t stick to him.
Liam Broady his foe last night, is the archetypal journeyman tennis pro, a couple of first-round wins at Wimbledon over 10 years but that’s largely it. He is battle ready though, his 45 victories last year beyond Kyrgios’s wildest imaginings.
Broady is grounded, from northern England, Stockport, a perennially gritty, no frills abode.
He’s come through three qualifiers, losing the first of three sets in each match and arrived battle hardened.
He’s on $1 million career prize money tops and trousered a further $103,000 for just showing up on Tuesday, a huge payday.
Nick sits on nine times that, plus endorsements. Hence the jet.
Kyrgios broke serve in the first game and was not shy to bring the crowd on board, urging them to up the volume, to go nuts.
A bullet on Kyrgios’ third serve of the night followed by an underarm serve through (yes, through) his legs set the tone. Six aces in his first two service games. What more could any crowd want?
The first two sets done 6-4 6-4 in 78 minutes, Kyrgios slacked off ever so slightly before winning in one hour 54 minutes.
I hope this makes people happy https://t.co/EiRgIIDRHD
— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) January 18, 2022
More to come
Tournament favourite Daniil Medvedev is next up. They’ve played twice before and get this, Mr K has won each time.
To further the sequence Tennis Australia will need to indulge its black sheep as never before.
Hustle him onto Rod Laver Arena (RLA) and the odds of a home win tumble.
Throw Medvedev to the partisans and the one-eyed on John Cain and you never know.
“We are going to play on RLA, let’s be honest,” Kyrgios said.
There was also a new, or adopted, painful chant ringing through the Kyrgios and Murray matches, an incessant booing sound that turns out to be ‘Siu’, mimicking the footballer Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal iconic celebration.
“They weren’t booing, it’s just a stupid thing. I thought they’d do it for 10 minutes, but not for two hours,” Kyrgios said. “You guys are a zoo.”
Siu was intended as a compliment but the reaction is entirely understandable. Not as bad as the 2010 football World Cup’s piercing vuvuzela chant, but boy does it grate.
At the same time on RLA, Aussie wildcard Storm Sanders threatened to upset the No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka last night after taking the first set.
But her early energy blew out despite 12 double faults from the Belarusian, who came home 6-2 in the final set.
Sabalenka is far from top form right now and it was an opportunity missed for Sanders.
Aussie men’s No.1 Alex de Minaur dropped the first set to Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti also while Kyrgios and Sanders were playing, but came through safely in four sets.
A fit and skilled workhorse, he is due a good run at a major.
Compatriot Alexei Popyrin, ranked 59, fell in five sets late on to France’s big-serving Arthur Rinderknech.
A word on Perth’s Maddison Inglis and a wonderful win over 23rd seed Leyla Fernandez.
Fernandez’s last outing at a major was in New York five months ago when she lost the final of the US Open to fellow teen Emma Raducanu.
Inglis, ranked 133, will not have had her lying awake at night and trembling. The pumped-up West Australian outgunned the Canadian, her thrashing forehands from backcourt problematical for Fernandez all match.
A wildcard entrant only, a thrilled Inglis was the deserved winner.
“She is a very, very good player,” said a magnanimous Fernandez.
SHE'S DONE IT! 💪
🇦🇺 Aussie wildcard Maddison Inglis has STUNNED last year's US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez and is through to the second round of a grand slam for the first time! ❤️#AusOpen – Live on Channel 9 and 9Now pic.twitter.com/QcNQ2JeU7T
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) January 18, 2022
Watch for Millman
Today’s play will struggle to match last night’s frenetic few hours, but from an Aussie perspective one match stands out.
Queenslander John Millman, who spent 11 months on tour last year, steps onto Rod Laver Arena last match to face the No.3 seed Alexander Zverev.
Ranked 89 after a slow start to 2022, Millman will be aware of the immense difficulty ahead but not daunted.
They have played twice, the German the winner on each occasion. But both matches have gone the distance.
Want a little more of Nick K on Wednesday?
He teams up with Thanasi Kokkinakis for an all-Aussie doubles bout on court 3 mid afternoon.
A postscript. Early yesterday evening a near-Orwellian apology from Tennis Australia dropped into all media inboxes.
TA acknowledged the distraction of the recent visa tumult it said and regretted the effect this had on all players. Lessons will be learned, it said.
The wording was clumsy, if deliberate. The man who shall not be named indeed wasn’t, nor TA boss Craig Tiley or federal minister Alex Hawke or any other key players.
Not only has Novak gone, but he has been airbrushed out of the entire first month of 2022 it appears. Although 1984 might have been more appropriate.