Novak Djokovic is approaching the Twilight Zone of his career, while the sun is belatedly rising on Nick Kyrgios’ journey.
He plays lights-out every time he steps out onto the court. Just a lot of power in his serve and his game. So I'm sure he's going to go for it. No doubt he's going to be aggressive. I expect him to do that. I am going to make sure I get ready for that one and let the better player win. Novak Djokovic
Title-holder Djokovic aims to level with Pete Sampras on seven titles against an unseeded slow-burner in his first major final aged 27. The Champion versus The Showman.
The Wimbledon men’s final on Centre Court on Sunday is one of contrasts.
Djokovic, 35, wants to move within one of Rafa Nadal’s all-time Slam record of 22.
And he is determined not to waste the opportunity, given how he is closing in on the end game of his stellar career.
Djokovic said: “I’m aware of what’s on the line. I mean, every match, every Grand Slam that I get to play at this stage of my career, there is a lot on the line.
“I don’t know how many Grand Slam opportunities to win the trophy I will still have, as I will have (on Sunday). So, of course, I’m approaching it with positive attitude and self-belief and willingness to win. There’s no doubt about it.
“That, of course, doesn’t guarantee anything because on the court a lot of things can happen. There is so much going on. There’s pressure and expectations. Sometimes you’re able to handle it better than your opponent; sometimes not.
“But the experience that I have at this level against someone that has never played a Grand Slam final, could be slightly in my favour. But at the same time, knowing who he is and how he goes about his tennis and his attitude on the court, he doesn’t seem to be falling under pressure much.
“He plays lights-out every time he steps out onto the court. Just a lot of power in his serve and his game. So I’m sure he’s going to go for it. No doubt he’s going to be aggressive. I expect him to do that.
“I am going to make sure I get ready for that one and let the better player win.”
Djokovic is reckoned to be the best returner in the game but there is no way he is underestimating Kyrgios’ serve or his general game.
The Serb said: “Nick’s serving motion is so fluid. So quick. Hits any angle. Tosses it forward. Puts himself in a great position. The serve is tough to read. Not practiced with or played him since 2017, I believe. On grass I expect it to be even tougher. He gets so many free points.
“It’s a surprise he’s in the final if you are talking rankings (Kyrgios is 40). But we always know how dangerous he is. His attitude. So confident. The complete player. Mentally he’s in a better state than where he was. He is maturing. Understanding what you need to do for your mind, body and soul. And he thrives on the big stage.
“As a tennis fan I’m glad he has made the final. He’s got so much talent. A quality player. This is where he deserves to be.”
Djokovic was in Kyrgios’ position as a final debutant against Roger Federer at the US Open in 2007.
He said: “That was a long time ago. I didn’t feel too much pressure as I had done well to make the final. The pressure was on Roger as the favourite.
“Nick is more mature than I was then, He’s a big-match player. He always plays his best tennis against the top guys, who respect him. Know what he can come up with.”
The best Kyrgios can offer prior to this event is a run to the quarterfinals at London SW19 as a teenager at the start of a career which has seen the hugely talented Australian under-achieve in the eyes of frustrated experts who believe he has the potential to win big on a regular basis.
Djokovic is all business. Kyrgios has been all-controversy if you read media which paints him as the Bad Boy of Tennis.
You know what you are going to get with the Serb while the man from Down Under is so unpredictable it is reckoned even he doesn’t know what he is going to do next.
Kyrgios admitted to spitting at a spectator on route to defeating Brit Paul Jubb early in the tournament. Got embroiled in a feisty encounter with Stefanos Tsitsipas in which both players were fortunate to escape being defaulted. And flouted the Championships’ all-white-clothing policy by sauntering off court against Brandon Nakashima in red trainers and matching hat. He also had ill-timed notice that he would have to go to court next month to face an assault charge involving a former girlfriend.
Kyrgios speaks his mind, and not for effect, it seems. He sees no reason to hide behind a mask. He can either rage at the umpire, or talk in measured, articulate tones, sometimes with a bemused look on his face, about a variety of subjects. How he feels tennis legends from his country talk disparagingly about him, for instance. About his mental health issues.
He appears a complex character but is clearly box-office as fans and media flock to him. And, if his head is right, poses a huge danger to whoever is playing him across the net, especially with his loose arm which unleashes big serves at will. No matter who is trying to get them back.
Djokovic is also a strong personality and, of course, a serial champion who has earned so much respect there would be no surprise if he passes Nadal’s number of major triumphs.
What he has appeared to lack is the undying love of some fans, apart from his Serbian supporters, of course. But that is the burden single-minded winners often have to carry. A ruthless streak, it appears, gets you through. It certainly has for Djokovic.
And as a bonus he has his reputation. So most who face him are very much aware they are facing one of the greatest players of all time. That even if you are two sets up, like Italian Jannik Sinner was in their last-eight showdown at the tournament, it is no guarantee you are going to beat Djokovic. British No.1 Cameron Norrie also found out that taking the lead against the tournament favourite was a false dawn in their semi-final.
Kyrgios reckons him and his rival in the greatest tennis match of the year have a “weird” bromance. Certainly, Djokovic has warmed to the Australian for backing his anti-vaccination stance. And the pair have shared Instagram posts.
Djokovic said: “When it was really tough for me in Australia (where he was refused entry to play the Open this year), 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.”
Also it seemed they were pally when they bumped into each other on the practice courts on Saturday, on the eve of their big date.
A most convivial meeting with a big smile from Djokovic as he passed Kyrgios still on-court at the end of his own session.
But we will see if that bromance stands at the end of each of them vying for the golden trophy every male tennis player wants to get their hands on.
Kyrgios, who hold a 2-0 winning record in his head-to-head with Djokovic, said: “I’m in a Wimbledon final. I know deep down everything I’ve gone through and I’ve worked for.
“I had a shocking sleep, just with the excitement. I had so much anxiety, I was already feeling so nervous, and I don’t feel nervous usually.”
He has had of course, an extended wait since his quarter-final victory over Chilean Cristian Garin.
Kygios said: “I’m a reckless ball of energy. I just want to go out on the practice court now and hit some tennis balls and just talk. I want the final to come already. I know that I have to kind of just calm down.”
* Mike Donovan has written the book The Jimmy Greaves We Knew: The Authorised Celebration of a National Treasure which is out on Pitch Publishing on 19 September, 2022, the first anniversary of Greaves’ passing. Donovan has also written a Tennis Threads special edition on Andy Murray called Murray: Magnificent, Momentous and Memorable Achievements.