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“Never won a set off him” – Djokovic needs to solve the Kyrgios mystery to win Wimbledon

It will be a classic battle of world-class server vs world-class returner in the Wimbledon final. Can Djokovic finally crack the Kyrgios code?

Djokovic Wimbledon 2022 Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in action during his semi final match against Britain’s Cameron Norrie | AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Novak Djokovic made the safe prediction when referring to Sunday’s final with Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon. 

“On thing is for sure, there are going to be a lot of fireworks, emotionally, from both,” Djokovic said.

Kyrgios is having trouble sleeping, that’s how excited he is about the prospects of facing the 20-time champion in his first major final.

“I think a Kyrgios-Djokovic final would be mouth-watering,” he said on Friday as he talked to the press, a palpable sense of excitement in his voice.

Now that the the tournament has shaken off the disappointment of losing Rafael Nadal – and his bid for the calendar-year Grand Slam – due to an abdominal injury on Thursday, Wimbledon looks forward to a blockbuster men’s singles final between one of its greatest legends, six-time champion Djokovic, and a rising rocket who intends to intercept the flow of history, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios.

As strange as it sounds, it is Kyrgios, the player who has never held a top-10 ranking and never played a Grand Slam semi-final prior to this week, that holds the decided edge in the pair’s head-to-head.

2-0 in matches, 23-23 in service holds vs. Djokovic

It isn’t just that Djokovic has never defeated Kyrgios. The Serb has actually never broken the Aussie’s serve. In their two previous meetings, which took place over a month in Acapulco and Indian Wells in 2017, Kyrgios defeated Djokovic twice without having his serve broken.

Kyrgios v Djokovic head to head:

Acapulco, 2017:

Kyrgios d. Djokovic 7-6(9), 7-5

  • Kyrgios won 43 of 53 first-serve points
  • Kyrgios won 15 of 20 second-serve points
  • Kyrgios saved the only break point he faced

Indian Wells, 2017:

Kyrgios d. Djokovic 6-4, 7-6(3)

  • Kyrgios won 36 of 42 first-serve points
  • Kyrgios won 14 of 27 second-serve points
  • Kyrgios never faced a break point

After the second match at Indian Wells, Djokovic spoke about how difficult it is to face the Kyrgios serve.

“He served so well,” he said. “Just wasn’t managing to get a lot of balls back on his serve, first and second, as well. So I guess that’s what made a difference.”

It is rare to see Djokovic, thought of as the best returner in the history of the sport by many, to be befuddled by somebody else’s serving.

Australia's Nick Kyrgios during practice at Wimbledon 2022
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios during practice at Wimbledon 2022 Image Credit: AI / Reuters / Panoramic

“Tough to read his serve”

Here’s what Djokovic said about the Kyrgios serve on Friday at Wimbledon:

“His motion for the serve is so fluid and just very quick,” he said. “He can hit any angle really. He tosses it forward so he can come in, serve and volley. He puts himself in a great position to be aggressive or to stay back. But he’s always one meter in front of the baseline.”

Djokovic adds that it is difficult for him to get a read on Kyrgios’ delivery.

“It’s tough to read his serve. I haven’t practiced with him or played with him since the last time I lost to him in, what was it, ’17 I think.

“On grass I would assume it’s even tougher to read his serve and to return because he has so many free points. You could see that throughout this tournament, as well. He just puts additional pressure on your serve.”

2017 was rough for Djokovic

For those thinking that this trend will continue when the pair meet for the first time in five years on Sunday, there is a caveat: Djokovic was having elbow issues in 2017 and he would shut his season down after Wimbledon.

Djokovic went 32-8 in 2017 and didn’t get past the quarter-finals of any of the three Grand Slams he played. Simply put, he was far from his best and Kyrgios took advantage.

He’s a much more confident athlete, and in much better form, even at the age of 35.

Djokovic hopes – and likely believes – that his first meeting with Kyrgios on grass will be a far different contest from the previous two.

“We haven’t played for for some time,” he said. “Never won a set off of him. So hopefully, it can be different this time you know?”

Djokovic to rely on his vast experience

As of Friday, after he defeated Cameron Norrie 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to reach the final, Djokovic holds the all-time record for men’s singles Grand Slam finals played with 32. He is confident that he’ll own a distinct advantage over his adversary on Sunday, as he takes the court for his eighth Wimbledon final, while Kyrgios plays his first.

“It is going to be his first Grand Slam final, obviously,” Djokovic said on court. “He’s very, very excited and he doesn’t have much to lose, and he’s always playing like that, you know he’s playing so freely, is one of the biggest servers in the game. Just a big game overall – a lot of power shots.

“It’s another final for me here in Wimbledon, the tournament that I love so much so hopefully the experience can can keep working in my favour.”

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