Thu. Aug 18th, 2022

Nick Kyrgios was just 19 years old the last time he made a major quarter-final, while Ajla Tomljanović’s first trip to the final eight came just last year.

The times between drinks have been vastly different, but both are taking time to remind themselves to enjoy their return to the Wimbledon quarter-finals.

In 2021, then-world number 75 Tomljanović stormed to her first major quarter-final in a run so shocking that she forgot to actually appreciate what she was doing.

“I’ve got such great memories from last year and I look back at that week a year ago and I think I did not enjoy it as much as I should have,” she said on court after beating Alizé Cornet.

Ajla Tomljanovic smiles while holding her arms and racquet in the air
Ajla Tomljanovic herself has been surprised by her run to the Wimbldeon quarter-finals.(Getty Images: Justin Setterfield)

Tomljanović’s 2021 run ended at the hands of compatriot Ash Barty, but she said that contest with the then-world number one gave her the confidence to step into Barty’s shoes as the top-ranked Australian woman at this year’s championships.

The 29-year-old said she felt like she “can face anyone” after taking on the eventual champion last time around, but hopefully her quarter-final clash with 17th-seeded Kazakh Elena Rybakina is “a bit more of a contest”.

“I think the experience that you have to move on quickly and forget about the positive emotions and just think about the next match is going to help me,” she said.

Kyrgios’ memories of reaching the last eight at the All England Club may be a little hazier than his countrywoman’s.

Nick Kyrgios celebrates beating Rafael Nadal
A young Nick Kyrgios beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2014.(Reuters: Max Rossi)

Not since his first outing as a wild card in the main draw at Wimbledon back in 2014 had he advanced past the fourth round, but the 27-year-old, perhaps for the first time in his career, is openly talking about how much he wants to win it all this year.

“I’m not thinking about lifting a trophy or making semi-finals or making the final.”

While trying to win the tournament may not sound like anything out of the ordinary, admitting that he wants to go all the way marks a shift for Kyrgios, who has often been apathetic or even dismissive about having lofty goals in tennis.

Although some of his performances at this year’s tournament have been as erratic as ever – complete with spitting at fans, the usual sparring with the media and calling for an opponent to be defaulted – Kyrgios’ standard of play has remained consistently high.

Kyrgios admitted of his previous years that getting “forced out of a pub at 4am” was perhaps not the best preparation for his 2019 second-round match against Rafael Nadal.

Nick Kyrgios sits on a chair with his legs wide apart and gestures with one hand, looking frustrated.
Kyrgios was bounced out of Wimbledon in 2019 in four tough sets by Nadal.(AP: Kirsty Wigglesworth)

He credits getting his life together off the court for allowing him to switch off between matches and focus when he takes to the court, putting him in a better position for a potential rematch with Nadal in the semi-finals.

“I was almost smiling and laughing to myself, just knowing I was locked in an absolute battle, where in the past I was not able to enjoy that,” he said of his 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 ( 7/2), 3-6, 6-2 win over Brandon Nakashima.

He said it was “probably the first time in [his] career “that he was able to take in the moment despite not playing as well as he would have liked.

“Playing center court of Wimbledon, fully packed crowd; I was able to say just, ‘Wow, look how far I’ve come’,” he said.

“I was bouncing the ball before I served and I really just smiled to myself. I was like, ‘we’re here, we’re competing at Wimbledon and putting in a good performance mentally’. It was rewarding.”

He suggested one of the biggest changes for him was that he was no longer the hunter, boasting a formidable record, especially on grass.

Twenty-year-old Nakashima took the fight to Kyrgios with the same sort of nothing-to-lose approach that a young Kyrgios, unburdened by years of expectation and unfulfilled potential, once played with.

“I’m expecting everyone to play well against me now,” he said.

“I was that kid once who stepped on that court as the underdog, where today it was me walking on center court being the favorite. It was completely different for me but I was able to navigate that.

“I’ve come a long way, that’s for sure.”


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