By Richard Osborn
If anyone is qualified to gauge Nick Kyrgios’ progress on a tennis court, it’s Novak Djokovic. After all, the No. 2-ranked Serbian has now encountered the Canberran twice in a matter of weeks — in Acapulco and here in Indian Wells — losing on both occasions.
“Undoubtedly he's capable of a lot of big things,” said Djokovic, who saw his 19-match BNP Paribas Open win streak extinguished via a 6-4, 7-6(3) loss, along with hopes for a fourth consecutive title and sixth overall.
“That was projected for him already a couple of years back. He's not very consistent with his results, but he's coming closer to the Top 10. He had his best year last year, so things are coming together for him. There is no doubt that he has a big game, and that game that he has can and should be for a Top 10, Top 5 player. So it just depends on him and his commitment to the sport.”
Kyrigios, only the second player — after fellow Aussie and sometimes advisor Lleyton Hewitt — to beat Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in their first tour-level meetings, was all but unstoppable when it came to his ballistic serve on Wednesday, his aggressive attack resulting in 14 aces, two of which came on second serves. Once he was in control of the point, the 21 year old rarely backed off.
“He obviously comes out playing his style, very aggressive, and just going for every serve, whether it's first or second,” Djokovic observed. “It's obviously very hard to play like that.”
“There are not many players like him on the tour,” he added. “He plays a certain way, and talks and behaves a certain way, which is characteristic for him. Obviously, it works.”
Djokovic, of course, has little reason to hang his head. Prior to Wednesday, the 29 year old — who owns a record 30 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles — hadn’t lost here since 2013. He came into the match seeking his 50th win on these courts.
“The run was amazing,” reflected Djokovic, who remains alive in the doubles draw with countryman Viktor Troicki. “I am very proud of it, obviously. It had to end at some stage. Unfortunately, it was today.”
A casualty of the tournament’s infamous 'Group of Death', Djokovic will likely take pause to consider some of the unexpected losses he’s suffered over the past nine months — the two defeats against Kyrgios; his slip-up against Denis Istomin at the Australian Open, to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon. With heavy-weapon newcomers like Kyrgios, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem et al. in pursuit, and longtime foes Federer and Nadal rediscovering their form, it only gets tougher from here.