The Special Ks took a selfie with their opponents in the tunnel, walked out onto a heaving centre court, and played their way into an unlikely Australian Open doubles final. Then Nick Kyrgios exercised some rare self-restraint and resisted the urge to “destroy” Michael Venus, one day after the Kiwi called him “an absolute knob” with the maturity of a 10-year-old.
The remarks by Venus, who was one part of the duo beaten by Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis in the quarter-finals, were left to hang unacknowledged until the pair’s press conference following their straight-sets semi-final triumph over Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos.
“As to Michael Venus, I’m not going to destroy him in this media conference room right now,” Kyrgios. “But Zeballos and Granollers are singles players, they’ve had great careers. I respect them a lot more than I respect Michael Venus.
“I think the balance was there today. The quality of tennis was amazing. I think the festival atmosphere was still there. I think they embraced it. They knew it was an incredible atmosphere. Zeballos took a selfie with us before we walked out.
“That’s how you embrace an atmosphere. You’re not losing a match and then getting salty about it afterwards. It’s ridiculous … if you asked Zeballos and Granollers, I think they would both say that that was probably one of the most entertaining matches they’ve probably played in front of a crowd.”
If the roof had been on Rod Laver Arena it would have blown off as a zealous home crowd roared the Australians into the final. Laver himself was in the house to watch the unseeded pair, who have shocked and awed both their competition and the public, storm past Granollers of Spain and Zeballos of Argentina 7-6(7-4), 6-4.
They will face Matt Ebden and Max Purcell in Saturday’s final – the first all-Australian men’s doubles decider since 1980 – after Ebden and Purcell beat second seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury of USA and Great Britain respectively, 6-3, 7-6(11-9).
The spectators came in higher numbers than for their previous matches at Kia Arena, after Tennis Australia allowed ground-pass holders through the gates. But those in attendance witnessed less showboating and skulduggery than they might have expected.
Previously, there was a sense that Kyrgios and Kokkinakis were playing mainly to entertain, but now they were also playing to win – with personality.
“I think both of us bring something different, different energy, different sort of charisma on the court,” Kokkinakis said. “But we just enjoy it and we have fun and that shows and that is why hopefully you guys watch us, but I think we are unpredictable and that is why they enjoy it.”
And win they did, despite a tight first set that stayed on serve all the way to a tie-break. Their opponents, both about a decade the Australians’ seniors, moved in tandem with a smoothness expected of the third seeds and last year’s Wimbledon runners-up, with Granollers targeting Kyrgios at the net.
The Australians, though, continued unabated, serving 13 aces and sending down 32 winners to 21. These included a Kokkinakis backhand winner down the line and a big Kyrgios second serve of 198km/h to help them to 5-5. It wasn’t until 6-5 that Granollers and Zeballos won more than a single point when receiving, and Kokkinakis, who received a time-violation warning, served an ace en route to setting up a tie-break.
Cue the start of the Kyrgios verbals. “Can you be quiet while I serve you numbnut,” Kyrgios barked back to one spectator who yelled something out, before jagging an early mini-break. He utilised a short backswing on more than one occasion to counter Zeballos’ serve and, the Australians raced to an almost-unassailable 5-2 lead.
They returned for the second set riding the same momentum and won seven consecutive points to take the opening game and raise a crucial early break point. Granollers and Zeballos clawed back to deuce, but eventually Kokkinakis secured the advantage with a deft forehand winner.
Things were going to plan until Kyrgios betrayed signs of pressure. Up 4-2 but down 15-40, the 26-year-old gave the chair umpire some lip and then served a fault, before pumping a high-velocity second serve and following it up with such composure it could not be answered.
In the next point he set up Kokkinakis for a winner, but still there was tension with the crowd, and again Kyrgios made his feelings known. After going down a break point, the umpire asked for quiet between serves, but it was not enough. Granollers and Zeballos broke back, and Kyrgios’s racket lay smashed on the court.
He was given a warning and went to the change of ends mouthing off. “Again, and again, and again,” he said in reference to spectators calling out before serves, “and still you say nothing.”
Kokkinakos was a picture of calm amid the mayhem around him, but so were the players up the other end, and their superior experience came to the fore as they levelled at 4-4. Kokkinakis, unflappable, then served out for 5-4 before his and Kyrgios snatched the decisive break.
“I think both of us bring something different, different energy, different sort of charisma on the court,” Kokkinakis said. “But we just enjoy it and we have fun and that shows, and that is why hopefully you guys watch us. But I think we are unpredictable and that is why they enjoy it.”
Kyrgios said they would not take Ebden and Purcell lightly in Saturday night’s meeting, again on Rod Laver Arena, following the women’s singles final which might feature another Australian, Ash Barty.
“They are obviously playing some good tennis, it is the final,” he said. “I am looking forward to it and is great to see Aussies having success – and obviously Ash on the women’s side is doing her thing – I am just looking forward to it.”