By Jack Martin | Thursday, March 16, 2017
""He's the greatest player of all time. Age is just a thing for him," says Nick Kyrgios of Roger Federer.
Photo credit: Getty
Nick Kyrgios was firing on all cylinders knocking off five-time champion Novak Djokovic in straight sets and barging into the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals for the first time.
Now Kyrgios sets his sights on four-time champion Roger Federer in an Indian Wells quarterfinal that pits the greatest player of all time against the game’s best athlete at this time.
Watch: Kyrgios Dethrones Djokovic, Snaps 19-Match IW Win Streak
The aptly-named “Quarterfinal of Death” should pop with life as the Australian Open champion faces Australia’s most volatile player in a clash of generations and styles.
It's the Swiss Maestro vs. the Australian menace.
Kyrgios whose mother, Nil, has urged her son to "behave like Roger Federer", has called Federer a "role model" and says he's not surprised by Roger's renaissance.
"When I see him winning tournaments, when I see him producing level, it doesn't really surprise me at all," Kyrgios told the media in Indian Wells. "He's the greatest player of all time. Age is just a thing for him. As long as he stays healthy, he's going to be the top player, you know, around that top tier."
The 35-year-old Federer was transcendent flying past rival Rafael Nadal in a 68-minute masterclass.
The 21-year-old Kyrgios’ damaging serve and dynamic athleticism makes him a real threat to defeat Federer, a childhood tennis hero, for the second time in as many meetings.
ESPN analyst and former world No. 4 Brad Gilbert says Kyrgios’ athleticism is unmatched, though his match maturity remains a work in progress.
“I do think there is nobody, anybody close to his talent level physically, and he is a closer,” Gilbert told Tennis Now in a conference call with the media to promote ESPN2’s BNP Paribas Open coverage, starting at 2 p.m. Eastern time today.
“I mean, you give him an early break and he's a closer for 25 and under. But the maturity and match in, match out, that's something that he's searching for, and I do think that at some point when he does want to add a coach, I think it could only help him. But he's got to want to do that.
"But I just sit there and like I said, last night, watch him and just marvel and his athleticism. I can't believe for his size how well he can move, how explosive. He ticks all the boxes for me game-wise. But just there's sometimes more to winning Slams and being great than just that.”
Of course, Federer specializes in improvisational solutions.
The Swiss was simply flawless as he hit with remarkable accuracy and pace on both the forehand and backhand which served to smother any tactical changes Nadal tried, to alter the course of the game.
Certainly, Federer looks to be oozing with confidence after rallying from a 1-3 deficit in the fifth set to defeat Nadal and win his 18th Grand Slam title in Melbourne.
Gliding across the court, Federer is playing some of the best tennis of his career aided with the reinvention of a backhand, which has become a real weapon as he’s grown more comfortable with his larger Wilson racquet, and his sense of belief to rip the backhand down the line as he did on match point to seal a commanding conquest of Nadal.
“I think the backhand has gotten better because I have been able to put so many hours onto the racquet now,” Federer told the media in Indian Wells. “And really, since this year, I feel super comfortable with the racquet, and I think I have also gained confidence stepping into it.
“Obviously you have to take it on the rise, and for that you need good footwork, because if the footwork is not right, you won't be on top of the ball. So I think all my coaches throughout my career have told me to go more for the backhand, but I used to shank more. So maybe deep down I didn't always believe that I had it in the most important moments. But I think that's changing little by little, which I'm very happy about.”
Having triumphed in Indian Wells, four times before, and with the rest of the ‘Big Four’ now knocked out, his eyes will light up at the prospect of winning a first Palm Springs title since 2012.
Additionally, Federer’s sharp serve and motivation have spiked further seeing both the younger generation and Big Four rivals Andy Murray and Djokovic struggle.
“I think about Fed and Rafa, the most amazing thing is both of them are still unbelievably motivated after all the time they've played to continue to play at this level,” Gilbert said. “They both are playing healthy so far in 2017, and I also think that maybe, maybe they're both starting to feel a little bit better about their games and where they're at because the guys from the '90s haven't broken through, and for the first time, Murray has had a little bit of indifferent results the last couple months, and same with Djoker, so maybe that's giving them more faith that all of a sudden there's still more of a window for them.”
However, the inspired Kyrgios is a formidable obstacle of Federer. Kyrgios will be empowered after snapping Djokovic’s 19-match Indian Wells’ winning streak.
For the second time in two weeks, the 16th-ranked Aussie manhandled the game’s best returner following his 25-ace outburst toppling Djokovic in Acapulco, 7-6 (9), 7-5.
Kyrgios’ forehand and movement looking extremely sharp as he hit 25 winners on his way to victory. Even more impressive was Kyrgios’ cool temperament throughout the match as he played with a control and assuredness which will make Federer and future opponents sit up and take notice.
Ultimately, service breaks will sparse in this quarterfinal. Neither Federer nor Kyrgios has surrendered serve in the tournament. Kyrgios did not face a break point against Djokovic.
Both Federer and Kyrgios are playing with an exhilarating, but relaxed swagger which suggests that their last eight contest will be a tight affair with a huge emphasis on holding serve, like it was in their only other match up in Madrid two years ago, when Kyrgios edged a 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 victory.
“That was kind of surreal, playing him, center court and winning was unbelievable feeling,” Kyrgios told the media in Indian Wells. “I think a lot's happened since then. I have played a lot more matches. I feel more confident in my game, and he's obviously playing unbelievable at the moment.
“But, yeah, I remember a lot. It's completely different conditions from Madrid clay to Indian Wells in the desert. So it's going to be a completely different game.”
Surely, tie breaks may well come into play during tomorrow’s rematch.
Kyrgios is capable of hitting anyone off the court. His serve is among the most dangerous weapons in the sport and if he serves as well as he did against Djokovic, Federer knows this could escalate into another tie break test.
“I'm very impressed (Nick) taking out Novak, back-to-back weeks, on Novak's best surface,” Federer said. “I hope it's going to lead to something great for Nick that he realizes, you know, if he puts his head down and focuses that he can bring it, you know, day in and day out, week in and week out.
“That's maybe going to take a bit more time, but just that he can run through tournaments, that's why he can win tournaments, because when it matters the most against the best and in finals, he's there. Eventually he will need that, but that's a great quality to have already now.”
However, based on the way Federer dismantled Nadal with efficient ease, his serving prowess, the fact his forehand remains one of the sport’s greatest weapons and that wondrous backhand, we’re favoring Federer in a tight three-set win.
But be assured, whichever way it goes, it’s certainly shaping up as a mouther-watering quarterfinal.
Tennis Now contributor Jack Martin is a tennis writer based in London.