The weird and wonderful: Nick Kyrgios

27146459703_9f9968263a_o.jpgName: Nick Kyrgios

Age: 21

Born: Australia

Similar playing style to: There is nobody like Nick Kyrgios

Whether you love him or hate him, Kygrios is undoubtedly an outstanding young talent. He obviously has his quirks, his troubles and basketball to play, but how good could this man be with some guidance? It’s crazy to thing about. I could write for ever and ever about him, but let’s just focus on his tennis.

It seems as though Kyrgios has been around for a long, long time, but I think that’s down to the amount of controversy that has surrounded him. It was early in 2014 when I remember watching him in the final of Savannah Challenger against Jack Sock. He only edged a close match to win his 2nd career title, but he just had that aura and class about him, which from a teenager is very rare.

Onto Wimbledon 2014. Kyrgios came from two sets down to beat Richard Gasquet, saving 9 match points along the way, and I remember thinking ‘wow this kid can play and he wants it’. He then went on to beat Jiri Vesely to set up a 4th round clash against Rafael Nadal. Of course he beat him. The shot of the match was Kyrgios’ forehand, half-volley winner from between his legs that David Polkinghorne of The Canberra Times described as “freakish” and “audacious”. If he does it now, it’s just the norm. He lost his quarter-final to Milos Raonic, and although Novak Djokovic (2014 Wimbledon champion) was sensational for the two weeks, the talk of the tournament was Kyrgios. Who is this kid? He’s 19 year-old, reaching the quarter final of Wimbledon while playing trick shots against Rafael Nadal. He was more than exciting.

Kyrgios made it to the 3rd round of the US Open, then decided to skip the rest of the season, citing burnout as his reason. He ended the year ranked 52nd in the world, and the no. 2 ranked Australian behind Lleyton Hewitt. His 2015 season started at the Australian Open where he became the first teenage male to reach two Grand Slam quarter-finals since Federer in 2001, this was after another five set thriller against Andreas Seppi in the 4th round. Kyrgios lost his quarter-final in straight sets to Andy Murray, but again he was making a name for himself and rapidly rising up the rankings.

Back to his scene of stardom. Wimbledon. This is first time Kyrgios showed his bad attitude, to which the public or press didn’t respond well to. Despite beating world number seven Milos Raonic in round three, his tournament was marred by incidents involving: giving up against Gasquet, threatening to stop playing following an incorrect line call, bad language and smashing his racquet which bounced into spectators. I felt sorry for himself more than anybody, for someone who has watched Kyrgios a lot I know how special he could be. To see this crazy talent go to waste because of a bad attitude would be a real shame for the sport.

Kyrgios won the 2016 Tokyo title, his biggest title win to date, after beating David Goffin in the final. He was disappointing in grand slams this year, and I put that down to sheer lack of application. The real top players train and prepare months in advance for these tournaments, where as I’m not sure Kyrgios applies himself as well. It isn’t down to lack of talent for his poor form, definitely not. On his day Kyrgios could beat anyone in the world, he’s that good. His mind, concentration and passion is his downfall right now. Whether he needs a coach to try and nurture him, or he thinks he will mature in time will remain to be seen. But whatever happens, I hope Kyrgios finds the solution to his problems because he could be one of the tennis greats.

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Can Karen Khachanov follow in the footsteps of Marat Safin?

28211135605_20564c6f24_oName: Karen Khachanov

Age: 20

Born: Russia

Similar playing style to: Milos Raonic

Is Khachanov the most exciting youngster on the circuit? In comparison to Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev, no he isn’t, but he’s just as effective. He trains in Barcelona with Raonic’s former coach, the smart and focused Galo Blanco. With that background, it’s hardly a surprise to learn his favourite surfaces are clay and hard court. His heavy groundstrokes, the booming forehand in particular, suit the quick surfaces.

Khachanov won his first ATP title last October, winning The Chengdu Open. On the way to the final, he eliminated veteran pros Joao Sousa, Feliciano Lopez and Viktor Troicki. The manner in which he won the final was mightily impressive, coming from a set down to beat 27th-ranked Albert Ramos-Vinolas. A lot of young players have all the quality required to be a top player, but lack the killer instinct and guile to win, not Khachanov though. He battled back very well in that final, and closed the match out in style.

The Russian proved his mental toughness in The US Open vs Nishikori. After winning the second set, he didn’t capitulate by any means, he was simply outclassed by a more complete and experienced player. He made Nishikori fight for his win, and I liked that, he BELIEVED he could win. Yes, he came up short as expected, but he still impressed with his battling mentality.

The most telling aspect of his personal bio, was him choosing Safin and Juan Martin Del Potro when asked to name his role models. Both are big guys, lumber around the court and are brutal when giving short balls to hit at. That’s a pretty accurate description of how Khachanov goes about his business too. We know already he can strike winners with ease, serve solid, but does he have the mobility and speed to move around the court? I assume it’s something we’ll find out in the coming years.

I would predict Zverev and Kyrgios to be more successful in years to come, purely down to them being well-rounded and complete players. However, on his day, Khachanov could blow anyone off the court with his serve and power. If he can improve his mobility, return of serve and rally play, he is well capable of challenging at the very top.

Dubai Duty Free Championships 2017 preview

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Following another extraordinary Australian Open, we see the return of Roger Federer and Andy Murray in Dubai this week. To watch Federer back at his vintage best was amazing, but can he maintain it? He looked unstoppable last month.

Of course his tournament chances were aided by the early exits of Novak Djokovic and Murray, but you just can’t fault the credibility of his wins. Let’s not forget he was returning from a six month injury break too. Federer faced Nishikori in the quarter-finals, who had reached the final at Brisbane in the build-up, so to beat him in a final set decider was a brilliant win. An all Swiss semi-final with Stan Wawrinka also went the way over Federer in another five set thriller. Up stepped Rafael Nadal to try and stop the resurgence, it was an impossible task and Federer lifted his 5th Australian Open title.

Murray returns after taking a month out, and will be buoyed after a shock defeat to Mischa Zverez in Melbourne. Hopefully Murray gets back to the very high standard he was hitting last year, which saw him win nine titles, including Wimbledon and Queens. He will be hoping for a return to form here, before hitting the clay courts in preparation for The French Open.

Tomas Berdych arrives on the back of a semi-final defeat in Rotterdam to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, so he will be hoping to go a step further this time round.The entertainer himself, Gael Monfils is always an entry I look for, capable of beating anyone on his day. Wawrinka completes a strong line-up in his first tournament since Melbourne, and will no doubt provide the fans with some quality tennis.

Prediction: Dubai Championships promises to be a brilliant tournament again. Although Federer was superb last month, I fancy Murray to return to action with a point to prove. He was playing at that high of a standard last year, that anyone was struggling to get even a set off him. I think a months break will have done him the world of good, and I expect him to bounce back from a poor Australian Open and win in Dubai, going into the clay court season full of confidence.

 

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Australian Open 2017: Rivalry Renewed

2209141430_45d132c9a3_oWhat a tournament. For all the wrong reasons perhaps, but still a grand slam that will go down in the history books. The two best players in the world, the two that were expected to dominate all year, dumped out in the first week. Up stepped Federer and Nadal, my word was it good too see them back to that level.

So, before the tournament it was case of Murray vs Djokovic. Who had the better draw? Will Murray cement his no.1 spot, or can Djokovic reign in Australia for the 6th time? If you weren’t thinking of any of these possibilities, I’d head to the doctors. It was simply impossible to oppose Murray and Djokovic, they’ve been on another level for the past 18 months.

Dimitrov and Nishikori both came into the tournament in solid form, both reaching the final in their warm-up tournaments. Federer we know is so classy and arguably still the most talented player on the circuit, but surely his 6 months absence would take it’s toll over the two weeks? And Stan is always capable of a big tournament when at his best. That’s right, Nadal didn’t even cross my mind.

All of the pre-tournament favourites started the tournament well, cruising through in straight sets. Until Denis Istomin came along in round 3. Djokovic certainly wasn’t at his best by any means, looked frustrated throughout, devoid of a plan B. Maybe a coach would help? However, take nothing away from Istomin, he was outstanding. How many times have these ‘underdogs’ been in match winning positions against champions, yet wilted on the pressure points. Not this guy, he closed the match out in style, knocking out the five time Australian Open champion.

It’s Murray’s to lose now surely? No it wasn’t. He lost even more convincingly to Mischa Zverev. Like Djokovic, Murray was below his usual standard, but credit to Zverev for thriving on the opportunity to knock him out. I don’t think Murray’s loss signals any problems like Djokovic’s does, he just had an off day, where as Djokovic hasn’t been at his best for a good few month now which is becoming a worry. So now it’s anybody’s tournament. Will Nishikori or Dimitrov win their first slam, or can the old guard roll back the years?

Federer’s comeback looked on when he surged past Nishikori in the quarter-finals, a much closer match was anticipated, but Federer at his best was just way too good for Nishikori. It was an all Swiss semi-final. Roger vs Stan. Wawrinka seems to have that winning mentality at grand slams, he doesn’t know how to lose in big matches. That’s unless he’s playing Federer of course. After dominating the opening two sets, Stan staged a superb fight back to set up a decider. Federer’s class, guile and experience saw him come through 7-5 6-3 1-6 4-6 6-3 to reach another grand slam final. Against? You guessed it, his old nemesis- Rafa Nadal.

The Spaniard also won a five set thriller against the in-form Dimitrov, who came so close to that breakthrough win he needs. I think this could be Dimitrov’s year, he’s hitting the ball as well as he ever has, but just lacked that killer instinct against Nadal when he needed it. One win over a top, top player in a grand slam semi final/final could make his career. He had chances of his own to break in the deciding set, but Nadal fought back as he does, to hold then break serve to win the decider 6-4.

It almost felt like a charity match to me. Two legends of the sport going toe-to-toe on the big stage again, Murray vs Djokovic has sort of took over now, but it was brilliant to see them battling it out for a grand slam title again. It lived up to the expectations, momentum swings ended with Federer in the form of his life, reeling off the last five games to grab his 5th Australian Open title. Nadal a credit to the sport as always, gracious in defeat, consoled an emotional Federer at the net after winning on a hawk-eye decision.

A brilliant tournament as always, but not in the way I or you expected. It was disappointing to see Djokovic and Murray play so poorly at the start of the year, but anything for a Federer vs Nadal final. It just shows how amazing these two players are. Nishikori and Dimitrov are the rising stars, but quality still shone through in favour of the champions. It was a pleasure to watch them take advantage of the mishaps of Murray and Djokovic. Who’s winning the French Open then? I’ll leave that to you.