Such is the clamour around Andy Murray’s return to a tennis court on Wednesday, even Nick Kyrgios admits that he might pay to watch. Given the Australian’s sometimes contemptuous attitude to his own craft, which has surfaced recently in remarks that he “can’t stand” world No 1 Novak Djokovic and that the French Open “absolutely sucks”, that is quite some claim.
But when the two-time Wimbledon champion road-tests his resurfaced hip at Queen’s, in a doubles pairing with Feliciano Lopez, there will be no keener observer than his ever-mercurial friend. “Andy was the first person I saw here, doing his drills,” he said. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
The relationship between Murray and Kyrgios is a bromance that knows no bounds. While Kyrgios has outraged the sport’s establishment with his adolescent shtick, incurring a £13,000 fine here at Queen’s last year for simulating a lewd act with a water bottle, the elder statesman has always found a way to paint him as a persecuted maverick. Even when he aimed a few crass taunts at Stan Wawrinka about his Swiss opponent’s then-teenage girlfriend, Murray sprang to his defence.
Evidently, such loyalty is reciprocated, even if Kyrgios rules out any prospect of partnering him in doubles at Wimbledon next month. The two have discussed the idea this summer, but Kyrgios said, tongue in cheek: “I don’t think I want to carry him. I think he can find someone else to do that with him. If I happen to go deep at Wimbledon, it’s too tough to play doubles as well.”
For all that Kyrgios can alienate with his abrasive personality, any doubles arrangement with Murray would be a box-office draw. Already, Wednesday’s comeback alongside Lopez is generating significant heat, with Murray’s mother Judy – who has offered many an aesthetic appreciation of his Spanish sidekick – posting a mocked-up film poster headlined “Deliciano and I.”
“Just to see him back healthy and happy on court is all that matters,” Kyrgios said. “He is a warrior. He’s good enough to do damage in doubles, especially with Feliciano. I’d almost pay to watch that match. He’s a legend. But I don’t want to keep answering questions, because it’ll seem like I love the guy or something.”
Instead, the subject switched on Monday to Kyrgios’ waspish rebukes against the world’s top two players. He has called Djokovic “cringeworthy”, alleging that the Serb has a “sick obsession with wanting to be liked”, while describing Nadal as “super-salty”. “As soon as I beat him,” he said of the Spaniard last month, “it’s a case of, ‘He has no respect for me, no respect for the game.” As usual, Kyrgios has some nerve: where Nadal has won 18 grand slam titles, the young renegade has yet to advance beyond a quarter-final. But he made no attempt at Queen’s to row back from his comments.
“My opinions won’t change,” he said, when asked if he had merely strengthened his adversaries’ resolve to beat him. “When we got out there, we battle. In society today, when someone is being honest, it causes a bit of a stir. I just say what I think. They are motivated to beat me regardless.” True to form, Kyrgios could not resist another sly barb at Djokovic, over whom he holds an improbable 2-0 record in head-to-heads. “If I play Novak, he’d just be determined to get one win against me.”
With Murray deferring any thought of playing singles until after the US Open, it has fallen to his less heralded compatriots to prove their grass-court mettle this week. Cameron Norrie tried gamely, taking a set off Kevin Anderson, last year’s Wimbledon runner-up but stricken of late with an elbow injury, only for the South African to prevail 4-6, 7-6, 6-4. For James Ward, the priority is simply to show that he merits receiving a Wimbledon wildcard this week. The 32-year-old, who has fallen to 208th in the world, last night displayed all the gifts on grass that propelled him to a Queen’s semi-final in 2011.
In a slugfest lasting almost 2½ hours with Gilles Simon, Ward could not be faulted for cussedness, but discovered that the Frenchman’s reputation as a human backboard was well-deserved. Throughout a tense contest, Ward battled relentlessly from the baseline but could not find the power in his forehand to put Simon away, eventually falling 7-2 in the final-set tie-break. At the end of the 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 defeat, he still offered a broad smile, suggesting he had done than enough to convince the All England Club that he was worth another shot.