Nick, you will be back. Hmm. Will he, though? There was the sense of a slightly awkward set of wedding speeches about the ceremonials at the end of this men’s Wimbledon singles final, a four-set victory for Novak Djokovic that seemed, for all the quality of the tennis, to be oddly inevitable from about 50 minutes in.
This was, of course, a Djokovic story once again but then men’s tennis has basically been a Djokovic story for the last 10 years. Here the lineal world No 1 was utterly clinical, his levels vertiginously high, riding out a sublime first set when Nick Kyrgios seemed to be playing in clean, crisp perfect sunlight, then reeling in his man via a ruthless fourth-set tie‑break.
But it was also a Kyrgios story, just as this has in many ways been a Kyrgios championship. Certainly this has been a strange kind of Wimbledon, reduced by the All England Club’s sudden interest in political gestures to what is essentially a very posh exhibition event. Not that anyone has seemed particularly bothered. Let’s face it, this tournament has always basically been a picnic that got out of hand. Ranking points? Hmm. Jolly good.
Kyrgios has run through those two weeks like a difficult guest at the parish fete. The hat. The shithousery. The endless stuff with the crowd, expressed here via an interaction with an annoying spectator when he really, really (Nick: focus) should have been concentrating on playing in a grand slam final.
In defeat the gentleman’s singles runner-up sat looking sullen in his red rebellion hat, quietly and unassumingly drawing masses of attention to himself. He looked exhausted. But then, being Nick Kyrgios must be deeply draining. Every time you go on court, Nick Kyrgios is there. Every game, every rally, Nick Kyrgios is involved. That voice constantly berating the umpire, the judges, the players’ box; it’s your voice, inside your head, being Nick Kyrgios.
Here Kyrgios shook hands successfully with the duchess and stood a little awkwardly while Djokovic did a best man type of speech, with some talk of nightclubs, drinks, going nuts together. And it was the champ himself who suggested that Kyrgios would be back, having got to this stage for the first time in a decade of trying.
It is a fascinating endnote to this final. There is something gripping about seeing Kyrgios confront the edges and the limits of his own talent, a career-long struggle to embrace what he can and also can’t do; and a note of tensions that seem at times to be the source of all that connected drama.
He was wonderfully decorative once again here. His serve was a wonder. It is a marvel to watch, the way that motion transforms this gangly, slouchy figure into an expression of pure physical grace. The serve itself is a kind of ripple, an undulation, taking in knees, arms, wrists, legs, pulsing up the length of his body into the fast-twitch whip of that right arm.
And Kyrgios is funny, too. He has a zone out of which his ground strokes seem to emerge, an area between the knees and the ankles, straight-legged, relying on hand and eye and French-cricket whip. Either side of which he moves with a potent slouch, shoulders sloped, manfully drained, at times reminiscent of peak James Brown in those moments where he’s helped from the stage under a cape, exhausted by his own soulfulness.
And the Centre Court crowd saw the best of Kyrgios in that opening set. He walked out to fond, warm applause and for a while he seemed to bask in it. There were angles and dinks and flicks and feints.
Kyrgios took his second service game in about 45 seconds, ending it with a punched backhand volley, cut with a lovely sweet fixing slice.
Djokovic was inscrutable, sitting this out, but he had no answer to a run of serves hit with thrilling accuracy wide on his backhand. Kyrgios took the set and Centre Court gurgled and hummed, thrilled at this turn of events.
It couldn’t last. Djokovic is an irresistible force. He learns your game, finds ways to win. He began to hit very deep to the Kyrgios backhand, then kept prodding at that sore point like an exceptionally thorough but mildly sadistic dentist. He took the second set and the day started to turn.
Kyrgios fought to the end. But in Djokovic he met a point of constant resistance, an athlete for whom the default position is always victory. A fourth-set tie‑break brought a sudden, thrilling change of gear and five championship points.
And at the end Centre Court was a fond, happy kind of place, in thrall to its champion. This had been billed by some as a battle of the undesirables, bad boy versus bad boy. But then tennis is all light and shade, opposed forces, pantomime gasps, an arena where placing your towel in a slightly huffy manner can draw gasps of outrage.
In reality this was a fascinating intersection of the two moving points, the career champion and the magnesium flare of Kyrgios, aged 27, looking to find another level.
There is a piece of Chinese wisdom that states that losers in sporting competitions should rejoice, because their opponent is giving them valuable lessons. For Kyrgios the peak years from here, and who knows, maybe even his own future happiness, might just be defined by how much of that lesson is absorbed.