Kyrgios shining in the California sun
A stint on the doubles court, the return of girlfriend Ajla Tomljanovic and a confidence-boosting win over Novak Djokovic have all contributed to Nick Kyrgios flourishing at Indian Wells.
The manner in which Nick Kyrgios cracked his serves down the T and middled his forehand on Sunday made it clear – he’s feeling good at Indian Wells.
The Australian brushed aside Horacio Zeballos in the second round to set up a third-round blockbuster against Alexander Zverev, scheduled for Tuesday in the Californian desert.
And with several planets aligning, Kyrgios is peaking at exactly the time he needs to be, especially when considering his position in a quarter of the draw simply stacked with superstars.
Beyond Zverev – if he clears that hurdle – immediately lurks Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro, Roger Federer and/or Rafael Nadal.
As well as playing singles at Indian Wells, the 21-year-old has teamed up this fortnight with doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia.
Together, they produced some magnificent tennis to oust the second-seeded Bryan brothers from the tournament in the first round.
“It felt good. But I was nervous at the start of the match to be on court with the Bryan brothers, and then, you know, Zimonjic as well being (a) No.1 in the world with doubles. So I felt like the odd one out out there,” Kyrgios admitted.
“But Zimonjic was telling me a lot what to do, so I felt comfortable early on, but it was probably one of the best feelings I have had on the tennis court beating those guys. They are probably still the best doubles game out there and greatest of all time. So it was a pretty good win.
“I’m trying to play more doubles, and I think that’s already helped me with my volleys and my transitioning game. Definitely on returns, it’s helping me return a lot better. And, yeah, I like to hit and come in a lot, so that’s helped me there a lot. My energy in doubles and the way I have been playing doubles is carrying over to my singles.”
Kyrgios’ singles game has been on the mark of late.
After departing Australia, Kyrgios was impressive in his title defence in Marseille, reaching the semifinals before a tight loss to eventual champ Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Then, in Acapulco, he stunned Novak Djokovic in straight sets en route to another ATP semifinal; he went down to Sam Querrey, also the eventual champion.
As a result, he’s arrived at the BNP Paribas Open brimming with confidence and has now won seven of his past nine matches.
“I got a lot of confidence from that (win over Djokovic). I knew everyone was waiting for us to match up. I knew I had to have a great serving day. I think he’s the most complete player of everyone I have ever played,” Kyrgios said.
“Obviously that felt good. I wanted to win that match. I knew I could win. I definitely had the belief in the start I could match up with him. I have drawn a lot of confidence from that.”
The week in Acapulco was significant for another reason – it marked the return to the tour of his girlfriend Ajla Tomljanovic.
Tomljanovic, a former top 50 player who advanced to the second week of the French Open in 2014, had been absent from the game for 13 months after undergoing shoulder surgery in early 2016.
Her appearance in Acapulco – and subsequent first-round win over Eugenie Bouchard – was something Kyrgios said had done wonders for his mood.
“I think ultimately that’s what’s helped me the last couple weeks … seeing her back on the court and having her first win in her first match back after a year,” he said.
“It kind of took the pressure off me a little bit. I just played freely and I was enjoying myself. And seeing her happy was key for me. That’s been pretty important for me seeing her back out there.”
Tomljanovic was also at Indian Wells, yet lost her first-round match to Julia Goerges.
Kyrgios, however, remains alive.
Given the headspace he finds himself in and the form he’s enjoying, he could remain alive at Indian Wells for a while longer yet.