Nick Kyrgios’ third round match against Alexander Zverev had the air of something special. It may have been the pair’s first meeting but it felt like the opening chapter of a lengthy narrative, destined to play out over the coming years. “Rivalry” was the word found floating around the twitter-sphere.
It has to be said that the match itself did not quite live up to its billing. The first set raced by in a forgettable haze of brief and largely forgettable rallies. It took some atrocious line-calls and an incensed Nick Kyrgios for the match to come to life. Both emerged from their shell and through a combination of fist-pumps and tweeners, Kyrgios was able to claim victory.
If you browse the post-match reports you will be bombarded with videos and gifs of Kyrgios’ outrageous tweeners and sublime volleying. That is not surprising. His raw tenacity and showmanship is almost unrivaled in tennis and it is right that it is cast into the social media space as an advert for the sport.
Does Nick Kyrgios have the best serve on tour?
It is not though, where the real talent lies in Nick Kyrgios. The reason that first set of tennis was so forgettable was a consequence of the Kyrgios serve. Plenty is made of Kyrgios’ antics and highlight-reel winners but his security on serve is perhaps his greatest asset.
The surprise surrounding the potency of his serve is nothing new. At the end of 2016 Infosys ATP statistics analysed the serves of every player since 1981 to see who was the most devastating. Nick Kyrgios came in fifth.
Commonly, big servers are not associated with fluid movement and athletic dynamism yet the Australian possesses all of these traits. It is the variety in his gameplay which masks the true power of his serve. The four names above him – Ivo Karlovic, John Isner, Milos Raonic and Andy Roddick – are all packaged as big-servers. Nick Kyrgios though is marketed as more of a tenacious showman.
Novak Djokovic baffled by the Nick Kyrgios serve
Nick Kyrgios’ service capabilities perhaps truly came into the public eye in his first meeting with Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals of Acapulco this year. Despite triumphing in two sets the Aussie put 25 aces past the world #2. Given that Djokovic is widely – and quite rightly – heralded as the greatest returner on the planet this is some feat.
His second meeting with Djokovic in Indian Wells was similarly destructive. The simple fact that he did not face a single break point tells you everything you need to know about his success in the Californian desert. Djokovic is not a man who enjoys facing the Kyrgios serve. Few men are.
Second serve the key to Nick Kyrgios improvement
The improvements have been coming steadily over the past few years, with a particular focus on the second serve. While the first serve percentage of points won has only improved on average from 75.1 to 76.0 between 2014 and 2016 it is a different story for the second serve.
The second serve figure was only at 49.8 per cent in 2014 but that rose almost a full six percent to 55.1 in 2016 with that figure already on the rise in 2017. Given the way top players like to step in and capitalise on a second serve – a la Andy Murray – to be able to back up an impressive first serve with these figures is a major bonus.
It also comes with a fearlessness that is unrivalled in high-pressure second serve situations. A prime example of this was the second serve ace he hit against Djokovic in Indian Wells at 3-2 in the second set tie-break. A mesmerizingly powerful strike straight down the tee from the add court – by far his most successful and consistent serve. Nick Kyrgios – at least on the surface – appears to have dodged that pesky thing called “pressure” that so many players struggle with.
126mph second serve ace.
As you do. #Kyrgios
What the serve also enables him to do is escape from difficult situations and ride out emotional rollercoasters. Because, lets face it, Nick Kyrgios has plenty of them during the year. In the match against Zverev when he lost his concentration with the umpire, his serve was able to prevent the German from breaking while his mind calmed down and readjusted. Quite a useful trait to have if you have a tendency to mentally implode.
The serve will translate to Grand Slam glory
What is even scarier is that Nick Kyrgios is still only 21 years old. It’s easy to forget his age given that it feels as though he has been around for years. To have such a fluid, reliable and dangerous serve at this age is a huge foundation to build an outstanding game around – not that his game is littered with flaws.
Of course it has been well documented that his Grand Slam collapses have been mental not physical. The debate has been raging for years over whether he will ever get his hands on a Grand Slam trophy. Nowadays the serve simply does not let him down, regardless of the state of his mind. The foundations of the serve mean that it is not outside the realms of possibility to say that Nick Kyrgios could win a Grand Slam even with two or three matches where he is not fully focused mentally.
Looking ahead there is increasingly less doubt over whether Nick Kyrgios will win a Grand Slam. He is prone to mentally lose interest against lesser opponents while he comes alive against the big guns (Murray the exception so far). The serve though has now reached a level where he should be able to coast through early rounds before coming alive in the later stages. Mark my words, Nick Kyrgios is a future Grand Slam champion.