With a sense of “measurement” that characterizes him, Nick Kyrgios had trumpeted to whoever wanted to listen: “This will probably be the most watched game of all time. On the eve of playing his very first Grand Slam semi-final, the terrible child of Australian tennis was chomping at the thought of facing Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon on Friday July 8.

Alas, Thursday evening, the Spaniard came to shower the hopes of his younger brother. And those of the All England Lawn Tennis Club with, which salivated from the reunion between two players who almost everything opposes. Defeated by an abdominal tear, the world number 4 was forced to forfeit: “Even though there have been many times in my career that I have continued to play under very complicated circumstances, in this case, if I continued , the injury was only going to get worse,” he said.

Already in early June, the 36-year-old Spaniard had won his fourteenth Roland-Garros on one foot – since treated with radiofrequency (which numbs painful nerves). Heroism has limits: without an abdominal belt and therefore without the possibility of serving well, the enterprise this time was futile, especially against an opponent with a green thumb.

Since setting foot on the London turf, Nick Kyrgios has had the best fortnight of his career and finds himself propelled into the final, where he will face Serbian Novak Djokovic on Sunday. After his quarter-final victory over the Chilean Cristian Garin (43rd in the world), on Wednesday, he gave himself up as rarely on the court, unusually moved.

Considered by many on and off the circuit as a wasted talent – ​​starting with his glorious compatriots who see him, in his words, as an “outcast” – the Aussie was close to proving them right: “I never thought I would be in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam, I thought I had missed my chances. I didn’t aim for the heights earlier in my career and I may have lost time, ”admitted the player who fell to 40th place in the world – he had risen to 13th in 2016.

“I grew up feeling like a veteran”

Paradoxically, it is in this setting steeped in history where one does not trifle with traditions that Nick Kyrgios, apostle of irreverence, revealed himself to the general public. In 2014, the 19-year-old teenager eliminated in the round of 16… Rafael Nadal, then world number one. At the time, this victory with panache for the 144th in the world had amazed well beyond the dapper borders of the All England Club.

Because before becoming a player who divides on the circuit and plays the “intermittent of the show”, follower of antics and “punchlines” on the courts and elsewhere, the former world number one junior was above all a precocious kid, full of talent. A leaden serve from the height of his 1.93m, a slamming forehand and a good dose of impudence, ensuring the spectacle with great reinforcement of “tweeners” (blows between the legs) and underhand serves, between others.

Since his successful baptism on the Center Court eight years ago, the Australian has had a string of brilliant moves, displaying a surplus of motivation at each opportunity to knock out the headliners (he has the best percentage of matches won against to the Nadal-Federer-Djokovic trio), without knowing the existence of the words rigor and consistency.

On Wednesday, the 27-year-old right-hander returned to that sine trajectory: “If you had asked anyone if I was capable of going to the semi-finals of Wimbledon, I think everyone would have probably said, ‘No. , he doesn’t have the mental ability, he doesn’t have the physical ability, he doesn’t have the discipline, etc.”, he elaborated. The times I’ve gone this far in a Grand Slam [quarters at Wimbledon 2014 and Australian Open 2015], I haven’t been able to make sense of things. But I grew up. People often forget that I’ve been on the circuit for almost ten years. I feel a bit like a veteran. »

Going out to the pub until dawn

Earlier this week, he unearthed an anecdote in front of reporters that alone sums up the character: “There was a time when I had to be dragged out of a pub at 4 a.m. to play a second round of Wimbledon. against Nadal [in 2019, defeat against the Spaniard in four sets]. I’ve come a long way, that’s for sure…”

He then continued the soul-searching at length in a press conference after his quarter-final, abandoning a once arrogant tone: “There was a time when I was almost done with the sport,” recalled Nick Kyrgios, who revealed at the start of the year on Instagram having had self-destructive and suicidal thoughts at the 2019 Australian Open. At the start of the year, I had lost the love of the game, lost the spark. Then some things changed in my life. I feel like I’m playing my best tennis and feeling good about myself. I feel good, I feel calm, I feel mature. The road has been long. »

Farewell to “kyrgioseries”? Not so fast… The Australian drew the whistles of the public as soon as he entered the running on the London lawn, spitting in the direction of a spectator, then performing a prank with the Greek Stéfanos Tsitsipas in the third round, between shouting matches with the referee, penalty point, ball thrown into the audience and request for disqualification. In less than a week, the person concerned had to pay a fine of 14,000 dollars (13,700 euros).

And his torments are likely to continue regardless of the outcome of this fortnight: accused of assault by a former girlfriend, he was summoned to appear in court in Canberra in early August.