Novak Djokovic v Nick Kyrgios: Expect the unexpected in blockbuster Wimbledon final

Top seed and defending champion takes on the mercurial Australian for the title on Sunday

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One of tennis' greatest ever champions faces one of the sport's most talented but divisive players in the Wimbledon final on Sunday in a match that promises to deliver "fireworks".

Novak Djokovic, the world No 1 and three-time defending champion, is aiming to draw level with Pete Sampras on seven Wimbledon titles and move up to 21 majors overall, just one behind the record set by Rafael Nadal. But the Serb takes on an opponent who thrives on chaos and regularly delivers his best tennis against the game's best players.

After Rafael Nadal's injury-enforced withdrawal, Nick Kyrgios will compete in his first Grand Slam final at the age of 27 after a roller-coaster career.

There have been tempestuous outbursts, spats with players, officials and media and fines that he has previously estimated have cost him $500,000.

Kyrgios, bidding to become Australia's first Grand Slam men's champion since Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon 20 years ago, has been box office on and off the court at the All England Club.

In a campaign of all-out attack, he has fired a tournament-leading 120 aces, 292 winners, the second-fastest serve of 137 miles (220 kilometres) per hour while being broken only six times.

But he has picked up $14,000 in fines, spat in the direction of fans and was even accused of having an "evil side" and being a "bully" by third-round rival Stefanos Tsitsipas. Even after a relatively drama-free victory against Brandon Nakashima in the fourth round, Kyrgios still managed to court controversy by donning a red cap and trainers while still on court in a clear violation of Wimbledon's all-white attire rules.

He also has the added distraction of a court appearance in Australia next month, related to an allegation of assault.

"I never thought I'd be here at all, to be brutally honest with you," Kyrgios said. "I'm just super proud and I'm just ready to go. Once you are able to raise a Grand Slam trophy, that's like, I mean, kind of what else is there to achieve?"

Kyrgios beats Garin to reach Wimbledon semi-finals

Kyrgios, ranked No 40, said that, win or lose on Sunday, he has already put his many detractors in their place.

"Since I was born, only eight people have ever won this title, like eight people," he said. "I'm just going to give it my best shot."

The final will be a clash between two men who have rarely seen eye-to-eye.

When Djokovic organised his ill-fated Adria Tour during the coronavirus pandemic, Kyrgios accused him of "lacking leadership and humility". He once described the Serb's post-match victory celebrations as "cringeworthy".

Djokovic hit back last year when he said: "Off the court, I don't have much respect for him, to be honest."

However, Kyrgios performed an about-turn by becoming one of the few players to offer Djokovic support in his Australia deportation saga in January, related to his Covid vaccination status.

"We definitely have a bit of a bromance now, which is weird," said Kyrgios on Friday. "We actually message each other on DMs in Instagram now and stuff. Earlier in the week, he was like, 'Hopefully I'll see you Sunday'."

Kyrgios knows how to beat Djokovic, winning their only two meetings in 2017 in Acapulco and Indian Wells without dropping a set. Victory on Sunday would make him only the third unseeded man to lift the trophy after Boris Becker in 1985 and Goran Ivanisevic in 2001.

Djokovic, into his eighth Wimbledon final and record 32nd at all the majors, admitted that he has warmed to Kyrgios but stopped short of agreeing they were at the "bromance" level.

"We definitely have a better relationship than what it was probably prior to January this year," said the top seed. "When it was really tough for me in Australia, he was one of the very few players that came out publicly and supported me and stood by me. That's something I truly appreciate. So I respect him for that a lot."

The pair even exchanged some friendly banter on Instagram in the lead-up to the final and agreed to go out for dinner after the match, with the winner footing the bill.

Djokovic, 35, praised Kyrgios for playing "lights-out every time he steps out onto the court" but he believes his experience could be crucial against a player whose previous best performance at the Slams were quarter-final runs at Wimbledon in 2014 and the Australian Open the following year.

"But he's a big-match player," Djokovic said. "The best tennis he's played is always against the top guys. That's why we all respect him, because we know what he can come up with. I'm glad that he's in the final because he's got so much talent."

Updated: July 10, 2022, 4:31 AM
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