Although one player must always come out second best in tennis, respect never fails to come first.
Sunday night saw three hours, 26 minutes of bullet service winners and slices as sharp as a razor’s edge, but it was Grigor Dimitrov who carved out victory over Nick Kyrgios, shooting his way into the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the second straight year.
As the two embraced at the net following one last glorious passing shot winner off the racquet of the Bulgarian, Kyrgios looked at Dimitrov, the opponent not seconds ago standing in his way of becoming the first Australian to lift the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup since Mark Edmondson in 1976, and spoke one word to him.
“Believe,” said Kyrgios, inspiring Dimitrov with his own now-forsaken title hopes.
The respect between these two competitors quickly extinguished the fire of competition, kindled by Grand Slam ambition and fueled by the raw will to win. Both have played each other on the sport’s biggest stages, with Dimitrov conquering Kyrgios to claim his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati and the Aussie bettering the Bulgarian just weeks ago en route to his first title on home soil in Brisbane. In press, Dimitrov commented on their off-court relationship and their words exchanged at the net.
“I think we were very great with each other. When we are off the court I think we have a lot of respect with each other,” said Dimitrov.
“I have seen a lot of positivity from him the past weeks, I would say. So I just obviously wished him good luck and to keep on going that way. I think it’s important, and again, we all play this game to have fun, to enjoy it. I know it’s a big battle out there, but we are humans, above all. Yes, we compete there, but you have got to be human, above all.”
Kyrgios, who at 22 plays with as much tempest as he does talent, has shown much improvement in 2018 to mature his game and in his approach to the tour life.
“I think he’s just improving, really,” Dimitrov said. “Again, he’s a great guy. And in a way that’s why we play the game. I love competing against him,” said the third-seeded Bulgarian, who next faces Kyle Edmund for a spot in the semi-finals.
“I know it’s frustrating at times, very frustrating, but at the same time it’s for the love of the game, and I love the game. That’s why I think tonight was such a good match on both ends because that was a Grand Slam match.”
But what exactly did the two say at the net? Dimitrov was pressed on it, but didn’t budge.
“I think it’s way better to be personal. Obviously wished him good luck and believe in himself and keep playing. The rest is between us.”