Stefanos Tsitsipas accused Nick Kyrgios of being a bully and possessing an “evil side” after his four-set defeat in Saturday night’s tempestuous third-round clash.
He said: “It’s constant bullying, that’s what he does. He bullies the opponents. He was probably a bully at school himself. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like people that put other people down.
“He has some good traits in his character, as well. But he also has a very evil side to him, which if it’s exposed, it can really do a lot of harm and bad to the people around him.”
Asked about the Greek player’s accusations, Kyrgios said he was “not sure” how he had bullied Tsitsipas.
“He was the one hitting balls at me, he was the one that hit a spectator, he was the one that smacked it out of the stadium,” responded the world number 40.
“I didn’t do anything. Apart from me just going back and forth to the umpire for a bit, I did nothing towards Stefanos that was disrespectful, I don’t think. I was not drilling him with balls.”
Fourth seed Tsitsipas had taken the first set but around an hour later was on the brink of a meltdown, driven to distraction by the latest antics from the enfant terrible of tennis.
A 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 victory for the world No 40 from Australia does not tell a fraction of the story of a stormy match. At one point Kyrgios even demanded his opponent be defaulted after hitting a ball into the crowd, narrowly missing a spectator.
After behaving with choirboy-like restraint in his win over Filip Krajinovic in the previous round, this was the Australian returning to histrionic type.
“The people are here to see me, not you, bro,” Kyrgios told the umpire midway through his dramatic victory, “Don’t tell me what to do.”
Full of noisily delivered complaints, he was chuntering and muttering and stamping his feet throughout this never less than compelling match. And, it has to be admitted, the Court No 1 crowd loved every moment of his pantomime villainy. Largely because in between moans he played some glorious tennis.
This was the Kyrgios paradox writ large: for every gobby moment of insurrection, he delivered a beautiful piece of skill. For every absurdly self-aggrandising moan, he produced a sublime winner. Full of malevolent mischief, he is tennis’s true entertainer.
‘Why don’t you just get a new ref?’
Indeed it is hard to know where to start in describing this victory: with the lengthy debate he had with the officials over the consequences his opponent should face for hitting a ball into the crowd, or with the casual destruction of Tsitsipas’ 130mph serve.
With his endless whining, or with his wonderfully audacious drop shots. Either way it is hard to argue that Kyrgios was the character at the centre of the drama.
He had begun mumbling in the first set. In truth it was a poor line call that first set him off. But instead of putting it down as one of those things, he was straight into the umpire.
“It’s the same thing over and over and over again. Every single match there’s mistakes. So what, you can just say sorry & it’s all good? At five-all, in the f—— first set of Wimbledon third round, he says sorry and it’s all good? Get a new ref then. Why don’t you just get a new one? Why? He’s got one line, bro!”
The umpire wisely chose to ignore such advice. But it didn’t stop Kygrios. Either in his complaining or in his playing. Just after his lengthy moan, he won a service game to love, whipping through each delivery at blinding pace.
And what made this such a compelling watch was that Tsitsipas was capable of a brilliant shot or two himself. One cross-court winner left Kyrgios flat-footed, bereft, not sure who he could blame. These two were clearly made to compete.
At first, after his lengthy whinge, it seemed as if we were about to witness another Kyrgios self-immolation. He double-faulted in the first-set tiebreak, giving his opponent the advantage and the set. Then he wafted a straightforward smash into the net.
But instead of collapsing, in the second set he really opened up. And this despite being given an official warning when a linesman complained about his language. Maybe not as elegant in his execution as Tsitsipas, he nevertheless analysed the angles of the court to perfection.
Sometimes he looked so lackadaisical, standing still on the baseline, flicking at the ball. But the shots he produced completely belied his stance. Clever, poised, perfectly-positioned, he started to ease away. And what a winner he played to break Tsitsipas and win the second set.
Then he argued with the umpire because Tsitsipas responded by hitting the ball in his frustration into the crowd. It didn’t hit anyone, but Kygrios was straight into the official wondering why there was no recrimination.
“Send me your supervisor,” he told the umpire. “I’m not playing on until I get to the bottom of this. I want all the supervisors.”
Forty-one years on from John McEnroe’s “you cannot be serious” outburst on the same court, Kyrgios was in full homage to the man now sitting in judgment in the BBC commentary box. As it happened, Tsitsipas was not disqualified – instead delivering his own complaint about his opponent: “the gentleman is taking up too much towel space”.
Kyrgios played on, almost immediately following up an ace with an underarm serve that his opponent angrily swished into the crowd. This time Tsitsipas was admonished. And so it continued.
Dramatic, aggressive, unyielding: this was getting personal, Tsitsipas once thumping a volley deliberately at his opponent’s chest. Kyrgios, it was clear, had now pitched his tent in his opponent’s head.
The Australian took the third set, then twice managed to come back when Tsitsipas threatened to respond with set points in the fourth. The set progressed to a tiebreak, the momentum swung wildly, both players producing some sublime shots in their determination to prevail.
When Kyrgios won it on his second match point, his celebration was deep, loud and long. And there appeared no hard feelings at the net as the pair exchanged a brief palm slap. Indeed, Kyrgios was so delighted with his victory he even shook the referee’s hand.
“I’m just super happy to be through,” he said in the afterglow of victory. “He was getting frustrated at times, but it’s a frustrating sport. Whatever happens on the court I love him.”
As to the reaction of the crowd, he knew precisely its cause. “Everywhere I go I seem to have full stadiums. The media love to say I’m bad for the sport, but clearly not.”
Kyrgios plays Brandon Nakashima in the next round. The American would be advised to bring his ear plugs.