Nick Kyrgios says he will not accept any criticism from world number one Novak Djokovic over the way the Australian acts off the court, especially after the Serbian’s behaviour during the pandemic, which he described as, “as bad as it gets”.
- Nick Kyrgios and Novak Djokovic both recorded straight-sets wins in the opening round of the Australian Open
- Djokovic said he did not respect the Australian off the court, before the tournament began
- The Australian says he could understand if he did not respect him on the court, but not off of it
The Australian world number 47 made the comments after his 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 round one victory over Portuguese qualifier Frederico Ferreira Silva in response to Djokovic saying he “did not respect” the Canberran off the tennis court.
The words from the Serbian seemed to leave the Australian relatively unfazed but such is the acrimonious nature of their relationship that Kyrgios was only too happy to answer a question about the comments in his post-match press conference.
He said the comments surprised him because, if anything, the Australian’s off-court behaviour is better than the volatile temperament he displays on court.
“It’s a strange one for me, because, you know, I read his comments, he said he doesn’t respect me off the court,” Kyrgios said.
“I’m, like, it actually would make complete sense to me if he was like, ‘look, I don’t respect the guy on the court’, because I understand if he doesn’t agree with some of my antics on the court that I have done in the past.
“When we’ve played matches, I think I’ve actually been pretty good towards him.”
That is in stark contrast to some of the things Kyrgios has said about Djokovic off the court, where he has at various times labelled him “a tool” and having an “obsession with wanting to be liked”.
Kyrgios then went out to point out the difference in their behaviour in the last year and that while Kyrgios has stayed home in Canberra making efforts to help those less fortunate, Djokovic ran the disastrous Adria Tour events in Serbia and Croatia and partied shirtless with other players who contracted COVID-19 at those events.
“I’m not quite sure how he can’t respect me off the court,” the 25-year-old Australian said.
“I feel like I’ve gone about things extremely well, especially during the pandemic, I was driving around delivering food to people during the pandemic that didn’t or couldn’t get the supplies.
“I was extremely careful about what I was doing, I didn’t want to spread the virus to anyone.
“Now I’m actually trying to donate meal kits to people that need food [and] I have my foundation.
“So it’s very strange to me as to why he would say he doesn’t respect me off the court.
“But, yeah, he’s a very strange cat, Novak is.
While Kyrgios was in cruise mode in his first-round victory, so was Djokovic, who easily accounted for French veteran Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-1, 6-2.
But Kyrgios did not miss the chance to put away another verbal volley against the Serbian.
‘Not even close to Roger’
Asked who he thought was the best of tennis’s big three of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic, the Australian gave a familiar answer, siding with the Swiss star who, unlike Djokovic and Nadal, he has never really feuded with.
Kyrgios had a war of words with Nadal after beating the Spaniard en route to claiming the ATP 500-level Mexican Open in Acapulco in 2019, after Nadal claimed the Australian was “disrespectful”.
“All great in their own way,” Kyrgios said.
“I don’t think we have ever seen someone maybe so dominant in their period of time as Novak, like he went on that obviously 60-match winning streak or something really crazy.”
And then came the stinging rebuke.
“I think, in my opinion, I believe Roger is the greatest of all time, with his skill set, the way he plays the game, I think it’s pure,” he said.
“Talent-wise, just purely based on talent the way Federer plays, his hands, his serving, his volleys — untouchable.”
He did, however, concede that, despite that, the Spaniard does have Federer’s number on court with his 24-16 head-to-head lead.
“Rafa, you will never see someone so dominant on one surface, ever. I don’t think we will ever see that amazing accomplishment on clay, the best clay courter of all time.
“It’s funny, because I think Roger is the greatest of all time but not the greatest of the era because his head-to-head against Rafa is not great.
“I played them all. I actually think Andy [Murray] for me was tougher than Novak to play.”
Elaborating on why he chose Federer as his greatest of all time, Kyrgios also added past experience in matches between the pair.
“Roger’s chopped me a couple of times,” he said.
“Roger makes you feel like you’re really bad at tennis sometimes — he walks around, he flicks his head, and I’m, like, ‘I don’t even know what I’m doing out here’.
“But Novak, obviously what he’s doing now, look, I’m just watching him play Chardy and Chardy doesn’t even believe that he can win, and when you reach that status, you must be pretty good.”
While their war of words may roll on, it’s unlikely Djokovic and Kyrgios will meet at this grand slam event, with the only time they can being in the semi-finals.
To get there, Djokovic will likely have to get past ageing three-time slam winner Stan Wawrinka and rising German star Alexander Zverev, while Kyrgios has a host of stars in his way including a potential third-round showdown with last year’s Australian open finalist and third seed, Austria’s Dominic Thiem.