September 2, 2018
Let’s only talk about one shot. Just this once.
Let’s not talk about the impressive progression of Novak Djokovic towards his seemingly-inevitable quarter-final clash with Roger Federer.
Let’s forget Sascha Zverev and his typically-early Grand Slam exit. (Boy does he have to start stepping up at the really big events).
We don’t even need to pay more than respectful lip-service to the sheer determination of the irrepressible Maria Sharapova, who saw off Jelena Ostapenko with surprising ease.
Well done all of you. (Except Zverev, who needs the mental strength none of the next generation seem to have…yet).
But this day was about one shot. Played like a 20-year-old. Played by a 37-year-old.
It was the stuff dreams are made of. And normally you would add ‘except for the dreams of his unfortunate opponent.’
Not this time. Because whatever you think about Nick Kyrgios, he does appreciate brilliance.
And whatever Nick Kyrgios says about Nick Kyrgios, he does love tennis.
It just has to be stellar tennis. Better perhaps than even he can play.
So let’s talk about the shot. It wasn’t truly pivotal or vital in the context of a straight sets victory.
The score when it was played doesn’t even matter. Federer had weathered an early storm and was on top overall.
But the shot matters. One of the greatest moments of a career. The career of arguably the greatest sportsman the world has ever seen.
It was truly magical and told us that a 37-year-old sportsman can conjure something every bit as good as a far younger player, or anyone supposedly in his prime.
OK, enough of the big build-up. This is what happened. Kyrgios served. Roger returned. Nick played a shot so deft and angled that he must have thought the net was his friend.
But no. It became his destroyer.
Federer, scamper as he might, surely couldn’t send a tennis ball back over. Not from there. Could he?
The laws of physics defied it.
This is the part where you expect to be told that Federer defied the laws of physics, right?
Of course he didn’t. He used those laws in his favour.
Kyrgios had sent the ball wide of the net.
Over, but so, so wide that any ordinary human being would have given up the point.
And any normal 37-year-old would already have been applauding the next generation.
But Federer is the Peter Pan of tennis. Federer covered the ground like a kid in love. In love with his sport.
And so, against all odds, he got there.
So what happened next?
Well, Kyrgios had taken the net out of the game, as previously mentioned. So Federer simply found a way to thank him.
Roger reminded us not of the laws of physics. Rather he applied the simple the laws of geometry.
He saw there was a logical shot to play. No net? Great! No height necessary.
With exquisite audacity, Federer sent the ball so low around the net that Nick Kyrgios literally gasped with pleasure as he saw it land back in play on his side, and bounce away beyond him.
Roger loved it. Nick loved it. The world loved it.
Federer subsequently sealed his win in straight sets.
Did it really matter?
Kyrgios didn’t mind. He had been part of something superhuman. He had, after all, created the impossible angle.
Then an “old man,” in brutal sporting terms, met the impossible challenge and prevailed.
Federer accepted the invitation. And the world scarcely believed what followed that acceptance.
This is why we love sport. This is why we write about it, or watch it, or play it.
Did Kyrgios take the use of such dastardly tennis arts badly?
Of course not. He cherished the moment. He cherished the shot. Perhaps he always will.
And, as they say Down Under, good on him for that.
Other stuff happened at the US Open.
Frankly, who cares?
By Mark Ryan