On Tuesday, in the third round of the Indian Wells Masters 1000, Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev face each other for the first time on the professional circuit, in what may turn out to be the first instalment of an ongoing rivalry.
Kyrgios - Zverev: Rivals of the future?
The bottom quarter of the draw of the Indian Wells Masters 1000 event was certainly not lacking in quality even before the precocious pair of Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev made it through their respective matches against Horacio Zeballos and Facundo Bagnis to lock horns in the third round.
With Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Juan Del Potro, who have the grand total of 45 Grand Slam titles under their collective belts, also present in the section, Kyrgios, 21, and Zverev, 19 (until next month) may not be the most high-profile attractions at the tournament, but their seemingly predestined meeting represents something of a changing of the guard between the still impressive golden generation and the new starlets awaiting their breakthrough at senior level.
Lleyton Hewitt and Nick Kyrgios - Only players to beat Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in their first tour-level meetings.— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) 3 mars 2017
From a purely tennis point of view, the match has the potential to get fans onto their feet, because the duo – the youngest members of the world’s top 20 – appear to have skillsets that could see them rise to very top of the game. In addition, their style and strong personalities have already earned them an extremely active fanbase.
Kyrgios’ talent with a racquet has been common knowledge for quite some time now, as has his eccentric behaviour, which can range from endearing to destructive – to himself, first and foremost. Be it via streams of on-court insults, an attitude that veers from nonchalance to impudence, or a different notion of what it actually means to be a professional, his conduct has previously given rise to a certain level of hostility among his peers – Rafael Nadal thoughts on this issue are worth listening to – and tennis officialdom.
But the Australian has promised to put all that behind him. In fact, he is coming off the back of two semi-final appearances in his last two tournaments, in Marseille and Acapulco. And in Mexico, he ousted Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals after a high-octane battle (7/6 7/5), during which he demonstrated his explosive service and powerful baseline game.
Read more: Kyrgios wins as he joins the greats in Vogue
"We’re the two young guys that get talked about the most, along with Dominic Thiem"
As for “Sascha” Zverev, a young man who is also completely convinced of his own talent, he has, conversely, taken a serious and disciplined approach worthy of some of the game’s greatest stars since his earliest days as a player. He also strikes the ball like a hammer from the back of the court, although he appears increasingly willing to come to the net more systematically.
His love of tennis is undeniable, as is his fighting spirit, which saw him twice push Rafael Nadal to the limit within the space of 12 months: last year, at Indian Wells, when he found himself at matchpoint but wasted a straightforward volley and with it the chance to win, and then this year, at the Australian Open, where he lost a five-setter to the Spaniard in the third round. He subsequently emerged victorious in Montpellier.
“I’m really excited about this match against Nick,” said the up-and-coming German. “I think we’re the two young guys that get talked about the most, along with Dominic Thiem. It’ll be a great match, because I’ve played well this year and so has he. We’ll see.”
Curiously, while the Australian and the German have known and admired each other for several years, they have not yet crossed swords on the ATP World Tour. “I can’t wait,” said Kyrgios. “We’ve been good friends for a long time now. I played him once in the juniors and I remember him putting in a good performance.” It was a match in which the older of the two nevertheless triumphed (6/3 6/1), but it took place on the grass of Roehampton in 2013, and should probably not be used as an indicator for Tuesday’s encounter.
“I know that it’s going to be difficult, especially on this surface,” admitted Kyrgios. “If he plays aggressively, it won’t be easy to get a look-in on his serve, and vice versa. If I go out there and play my style of tennis and lose, I won’t be surprised. But I won’t be surprised if I win either.”
The competitors are in agreement with the fans and media: it is an exciting and unpredictable clash in prospect. And even though it has not even taken place yet, tennis fans are already looking forward to the next one, as a potentially sustainable rivalry begins to take shape.