October 4, 2022

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WIMBLEDON, England — Wimbledon, which has a nutty tradition beneath its elegance, had a nutty Saturday night.

A quick argument punctuated the match on center court between Rafael Nadal and Lorenzo Sonego. Before, during and after that, a prolonged cacophony spread throughout the match on the No. 1 court between Stefanos Tsitsipas, the world No. 40th but still capable of abbreviated brilliance.

Nadal, the defending Australian Open and French Open champion, played his scariest match yet here in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 draw. Kyrgios, still an attention magnet despite reaching no Grand Slam quarter-finals in seven years, won a thrilling fourth-set tiebreaker and advanced, 7-6 (7-2), 4- 6, 6-3, 7-6 (9-seven).

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There ended the tennis. On came the conversation.

“Yeah, it was kind of a circus, in a way,” Tsitsipas said of the game.

The Circus had code violations for both players, with Tsitsipas slamming a ball out of bounds that nearly hit the spectators after losing the second set, Kyrgios lashing out at the chair umpire for not missing Tsitsipas , Kyrgios lashing out more, Tsitsipas hitting balls at Kyrgios, Kyrgios lashing out more, Tsitsipas threw an underhand serve and slammed it against the wall behind the baseline, Kyrgios grabbing more.

Tsitsipas, seeded fourth, lamented the incessant yakking. “There comes a time when you’re really fed up, let’s say,” he said. “The constant conversation, the constant complaining. I mean, I’m about to serve, and there’s a big gap here that there’s no tennis being played, which is the most important thing on the court. We are here to play tennis. We are not here to have conversations and dialogues with other people, except – especially, in fact, not “except” – when you really know that the referee is not going to overturn what he has decided, you know. It’s really silly, in a way.

He said: “No other player is so upset and frustrated with something all the time. He triggers so easily and so quickly.

Tsitsipas blamed himself for the ball snapping near the spectators, although he lent some blame to the way Kyrgios confused him. “Look, I have to say it was really bad on my end,” he said. “I’ve never done that before, kicking the ball out of bounds like that. I apologized to people. I don’t know what went through my mind at that moment. … He hit the wall, thank God. I’m sure I’ll never do that again. It’s my responsibility, of course.

He praised Kyrgios’ distinctiveness and “good character traits”, but noted “a very evil side” and said: “He was probably a bully himself at school. I don’t like bullies.

As for the response to the underhanded serve, he said: “I was aiming for my opponent’s body but I missed by a lot, a lot.”

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Kyrgios, a whirlwind of chaos this tournament which featured him spitting at an abusive fan in the first round, spoke in stages: in an on-court interview with ‘ultimate respect’ for Tsitsipas and, after hearing some of the comments of Tsitsipas, with a respect for the sub-ultimate.

“Well, I’d be pretty upset if I lost to someone two weeks in a row as well,” he said, just to start.

“I was just wondering why he was still on the pitch,” Kyrgios said, “because I know if the tables had been turned I would have been taken off that pitch and defaulted, that’s for sure.” He called Tsitsipas “sweet” for being rocked and suggested Tsitsipas’ dismay might help explain why he has yet to reach the top.

“I wasn’t hitting the balls in his face,” Kyrgios said. “I don’t know. I didn’t feel like there was any anger. I didn’t have any anger at Stef today on the game. I don’t know where it came from, to be honest. He was angry because when he hit the ball out of the [court], he was directed to his box. Obviously they had some friction, and obviously when you start losing and losing to me again, you get angry.

Nadal, on the other hand, looked primitive. He called Sonego to the net in the third set after complaining to the referee about a noise Sonego made in the middle. The players had a long chat at the net after the game.

“Well, first of all, I have to say I was wrong,” Nadal said. “I probably won’t – I shouldn’t call him on the net. So apologize for that. My mistake in there. No problem. I admit it. Then after that, all the stuff during the game that I don’t want to comment, because it’s something I talked about with him in the locker room and it stays there.