The Nick Kyrgios show returned to the Australian Open as the maverick showman defeated Britain’s Liam Broady in the first round at Melbourne Park.
Kyrgios has recently recovered from Covid-19 and was playing his first match since September, but his full bag of tricks was on show in a 6-4 6-4 6-3 victory.
In front of a raucous crowd he set the tone with an underarm serve through his legs in his first service game and continued from there.
Hey Siri, define 'box office entertainment' ⚡️
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 18, 2022
It was a difficult role for Broady in his first main-draw match at the Australian Open.
The genial Stockport player was seen laughing and smiling, but said afterwards: “Everyone is telling me: ‘Oh you’ll really enjoy it, it’s going to be amazing’. But I thought it was absolutely awful.
“The atmosphere was incredible but it’s the first time I’ve ever walked onto a tennis court and been booed, which was a crazy experience. You get sledged from the sides like you can’t believe. So it was a very, very difficult atmosphere to try and handle.
“He’s incredible at getting them behind him and he plays better for it. I think that’s very rare, especially in the sport of tennis. Now people don’t really interact with the crowd like he does and that’s one of his biggest strengths.”
Broady stopped short of criticising Kyrgios for his antics, though, saying: “I saw a few of the guys in the lockers before and they said: ‘Are you ready for the disrespect out there?’
“I don’t think it’s personal. If I felt like it was personal and it was malicious, then I would probably feel like he crossed the line, but our job is to entertain the people and for them to enjoy the tennis that they come to watch and he does that and full respect to him. That’s what tennis is about I think.”
The British number four, meanwhile, played the match wearing rainbow laces in his shoes, saying afterwards: “I just kind of wanted to send the support.
“The LGBTQ community, a lot of those guys have given me a lot of support throughout my career and have been there since day one, so I kind of wanted to give a thank you.”
Tennis is a sport for everyone 🌈
— LTA (@the_LTA) January 18, 2022
Broady achieved a long-held goal by coming through qualifying with a fine win over Russia’s Roman Safiullin and will look to continue his push towards the top 100.
Kyrgios showed once again, though, what an extraordinary talent he is, producing a display of clean and powerful hitting a week after being bedridden.
“Obviously when I tested positive it wasn’t great news,” he said. “I had some doubts. But I couldn’t ask for a better team. The last week has been tough. I was lucky enough to have a tennis court just to hit some serves.
“I don’t know what I’ve done to this crowd because you guys are a zoo, but I’m just super happy to be here again. This is my favourite court in the entire world.”
Kyrgios, who paused to sip a fan’s beer on his way off the court, knows he is likely to have to leave John Cain Arena for the first blockbuster match of the tournament in the second round against Daniil Medvedev, the highest-ranked player in the draw in the absence of Novak Djokovic.
And, if he can produce the same type of display, it could be a very uncomfortable assignment for the US Open champion.