Two terrific matchups in Round 1 of the US Open, which begins today – Andy Murray versus Nick Kyrgios and Rafael Nadal versus Borna Ćorić.
But really it’s the battle of the two temperaments and Rafa versus his recent past.
Not for nothing is “A star is” Borna known as “Baby Nole.” That range, that return, that poise – all at 18. He’s already beaten Rafa (at Basel in October) but really, it’s more than that. For Rafa’s it’s got to be like looking in a mirror at when it all began to unravel for him, back in 2011. Rafa was the newly minted No. 1 when Novak Djokovic made that fabulous run that eclipsed Rafa for the top ranking at Wimbledon. Nole went on to beat Rafa for the Wimbledon and US Open titles and then the following January for the Australian Open championship in a six-hour match that is still the longest final in Slam history.
Rafa came back in 2013 – Has there ever been a greater tennis rivalry than Rafanole, one that could continue in the quarterfinals at the US Open? – but despite a brief return to the top by Roger Federer and the odd win by Andy, Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic, it’s been basically Nole. And now Baby Nole – who was invited by Big Nole to train with him over the past winter – is knocking on the door. No wonder Feddy Bear doesn’t want the press to compare Borna to Nole. One is enough, Fed seems to be saying.
For many fans, one of Andy and/or Nick is more than enough. The F-bombs, the angry soliloquys, the getting down on oneself, the flaky behavior involving socks and feathers. Andy, of course, would never call out an opponent’s girlfriend the way Nick did Stan “the Man” Wawrinka’s at the Rogers Cup, engendering all sorts of bad blood toward the man everyone is calling tennis’ new “bad boy.”
News flash: Andy doesn’t think Nick is a bad boy. Cappuccino machine, meet Keurig.
The irony is that Nick, who broke through against Rafa at Wimbledon last year (ah, what a round robin tennis and life are) is capable of beating Andy. He’s capable of going deep into the tournament, even winning it and other Slams as well as becoming No. 1 some day. So is Borna, who is the safer temperamental bet. And tennis – among the most individualistic of sports – is as much about temperament as it is talent.
The great ones – the Borgs, the Agassis, the Federers, the Djokovics – learned to channel the fire. (McEnroe will remain the exception that proves the rule.)
The question is, Can Nick do it?