Not since 1995 have there been as many Australians in the singles draws at Wimbledon, with 16 landing at the All England Club this year.
But two always threatened to be the main protagonists at tennis’ most recognized tournament — fiery young gun Nick Kyrgios and veteran battler Lleyton Hewitt.
They were both in action in southwest London at the beginning of a week expected to bring unseasonably warm temperatures in these parts — and both lived up to their reputations.
Kyrgios just can’t stay out of the headlines, with more than his destructive serve and forehand being dissected. In the last week, the man who upset Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon about 12 months ago cut ties with his coach — an unusual move on the eve of a grand slam — and claimed he liked basketball more than tennis.
Then on Monday in a 6-0 6-2 7-6 (8-6) win against Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, the 20-year-old called someone a “dirty scum” after a dispute with experienced chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani in the third set.
Kyrgios has admitted that London could make for a second home; the media masses might be willing to help with a down payment.
Hewitt, meanwhile, never met a fight he didn’t like, and in his 17th and final Wimbledon, the 2002 champion went to five sets against fellow veteran Jarkko Nieminen. All the while the 34-year-old was rooted on by the vocal “Fanatics,” a set of supporters who seemingly back Aussies wherever the nomadic tennis tour takes them.
That Hewitt lost 3-6 6-3 4-6 6-0 11-9 shouldn’t detract from his outing. The fact that the two-time grand slam winner made it competitive and lasted exactly four hours was something in itself: he is a part-time performer after enduring never-ending surgeries to different parts of his body. He received treatment Monday for foot and leg problems.
Kyrgios has been widely tipped to emulate Hewitt — set to be his Davis Cup captain after retiring when his 2016 Australian Open ends — and win a major, but like his countryman in his early days, he is dividing opinion.
His outburst during Monday’s match drew inquiries in the post-match press conference, and Kyrgios didn’t deny uttering the derogatory phrase. But he did claim the verbal volley wasn’t aimed at Lahyani, one of the cheeriest characters on the tour.
“I wasn’t referring to him at all there,” Kyrgios said. “It was towards myself. But yeah, I knew you guys were going to ask me about that.”
When asked what his reaction would be if he was subsequently fined, Kyrgios — sporting what appeared to be two diamond earrings — replied, “Wouldn’t bother me one bit.”
Hewitt lacks Kyrgios’ natural ability, but his competitiveness, return game and court smarts took him to the top of the rankings as a 20-year-old in 2001 — the youngest men’s player to do so. While his aggressive approach wasn’t to everyone’s taste back then, most fans would now consider him a sentimental favorite.
And when Hewitt saved three match points serving at 4-5 in the fifth set, the stage was set for him to record a memorable, likely farewell victory. But Nieminen wanted the win as badly, since this, too, was the 33-year-old’s final Wimbledon.
After the Finn forced an error on his fourth match point in a set that lasted 10 minutes longer than Kyrgios’ entire match, the two exchanged a hug at the net. Hewitt waved to the crowd prior to departing, greeted by a standing ovation from all, Nieminen included.
“That pretty much sums up my career, my mentality … never-say-die attitude. I’ve lived for that the 18, 19 years I’ve been on tour,” said Hewitt, who would’ve next faced defending champion Novak Djokovic — probably on Center Court — if he had won.
“As I tell people, it’s not something I work at. I’m fortunate that I have a lot of self motivation to go out there and get the most out of myself, whether it’s in the gym, behind the scenes, whatever.
“I was always going to leave it out there, everything I had in the tank. I certainly did that.”
Djokovic, competing in his first competitive match on grass since beating Roger Federer in five sets in the 2014 final — and suffering a devastating defeat to Stan Wawrinka in this month’s French Open final — disposed of the talented German Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4 6-4 6-4. He broke in the final game of each set.
Forced over the weekend to deny claims made by his own coach, Boris Becker, that he received coaching during his matches — which is illegal — he wasn’t happy to be quizzed about the issue once again.
“Of course I accept the fact that if my coach, Boris or Marian (Vajda), do say something that is against the rules that are in place, I have no complaint about the code violation that I get for coaching,” said Djokovic.
“I’m completely fine by that.
“I just don’t understand why this same story is repeating over and over for days.”
It appeared to be a case of déjà vu for women’s world No. 1 Serena Williams when she faced Margarita Gasparyan.
The American won the French Open this month — but only after several struggles in the first set, hindered by illness.
She was healthy on Monday but Williams fell behind 3-1 to the 113th-ranked Russian, who was making only her second appearance in a grand slam. Later in the set Williams earned a code violation for an audible obscenity.
The 33-year-old rallied, though, and then cruised to a 6-4 6-1 win, to set up a second-round match with 93rd-ranked Hungarian Timea Babos.
Williams is bidding to win a fourth straight major for the second time in her career, first accomplishing the “Serena Slam” in 2003.
Her older sister Venus — who also has five Wimbledon titles — reached round two with a 6-0 6-0 thrashing of compatriot Madison Brengle, and could face her sibling in the fourth round.
Fourth seed Maria Sharapova, in the same half as the Williams duo, breezed against Australia-born Brit Johanna Konta 6-2 6-2 and the 2004 champion will next face Dutch No. 123 Richel Hogenkamp.
Back in the men’s draw, there was a positive development for young home hope Liam Broady.
In overcoming Australia’s Marinko Matosevic 5-7 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-3, the 21-year-old became only the second British men’s wildcard at Wimbledon since the start of the 2007 season — James Ward is the other — to advance to the second round.
However, Broady’s sister Naomi was beaten in straight sets by Colombia’s Mariana Duque-Marino.