WIMBLEDON, England — Maria Sharapova won her first Grand Slam title, the coveted Wimbledon championship, at 17. Rafael Nadal won his first major, the French Open, within days of turning 19.
On Tuesday, the 28-year-old Nadal could have been speaking for both on the heels of his fourth-round loss to a wildly athletic, free-swinging teen-aged Wimbledon wild card.
“Everything is a little bit easier when you are arriving,” Nadal mused after falling to 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios of Australia, who didn’t so much “arrive” as erupt like pyrotechnics in his Wimbledon debut. “Everything is new, nothing to lose.”
Nadal’s ouster came within hours of Sharapova’s three-sets loss to Germany’s Angelique Kerber.
With it, Wimbledon lost both reigning French Open champions, as well as its No. 2 seed on the men’s side and the favorite for the women’s crown following top-seeded Serena Williams’ elimination Saturday.
Ranked just 144th in the world, the 6-foot-4 Krygios blasted 37 aces and hit a between-the-legs winner en route to his 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 upset of Nadal, the world No. 1.
From start to finish, Kyrgios was the aggressor, as well as the entertainer, blasting 70 winners to Nadal’s 44, not deterred in the slightest by the greater number of errors he committed along the way. The Aussie had never set foot on Wimbledon’s Center Court; he was determined in his debut to leave a mark as flashy as his close-shaven haircut adorned with a carved pattern.
And the teenager’s utter lack of restraint carried over to his on-court celebration, as Kyrgios, who describes himself as “just a normal kid” who plays a lot of Xbox, staged what he calls his “juicy-wiggle dance” to thank every relative, friend and fan who ever supported him.
Kyrgios has minted legions of new fans with his high-stakes brand of tennis here at Wimbledon — fighting off nine match points in his second-round victory over Richard Gasquet and then on Tuesday, in only the fourth grass-court match of his career, disposing of Nadal, a two-time Wimbledon champion.
Though his father is Greek, Kyrgios is steeped in Australian culture. He said his goal, in addition to reaching No. 1 in the world, was to bring back the fearless style of tennis brandished by Aussie greats Lleyton Hewitt and Pat Cash — lofty ambitions, to be sure, from a player who was ranked a lowly 828th in the world one year ago.
But none other than three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe was buying it.
“Absolutely stunning” is how McEnroe described what Kyrgios did to Nadal, arguably the game’s greatest defender.
“We keep saying, ‘Who’s the next guy?’” McEnroe said during the BBC broadcast. “I think we found that guy.’”
Precious little separated the players. The three-hour match had just two breaks of serve, with Nadal getting the break that decided the second set, and Kyrgios the break in the decisive fourth.
Nadal attributed any difference to two factors: the surface, with grass tending to favor big servers, and the abandon of youth, which the Spaniard recalls well.
“The thing is, this surface — when you have an opponent that he decides to serve and hit every ball very strong, you are in trouble,” said Nadal, whose mastery resides on clay.
Given that, Nadal said he was at peace with the outcome, conceding he lost to a better opponent.
“I tried. I lost,” Nadal said. “That’s easiest way to explain that. I lost. Is not a drama. Is nothing strange. I lost in four sets, having my chances, only losing one serve.”
Sharapova, who was bidding to win her second Wimbledon title a decade after her 2004 triumph, fell to Kerber, a 26-year-old who had beaten her only once in five previous meetings. The German isn’t known for a particular world-beating shot or outstanding quality. But she plays a steady game, rarely beating herself with errors or nerves, and forces her opponent to beat her.
Afterward, the Russian faulted herself for getting out to a slow start in the decisive third set.
A steely competitor, Sharapova refused to go easily, fighting off six match points before a final error put the victory in Kerber’s hands.
“It happens,” Sharapova said, asked what she felt was behind the surprising ouster of the tournament’s top two women’s favorites before the quarterfinals.
“Just because you come in as a favorite doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed to hold the trophy at the end of the two weeks,” Sharapova said. “At the end of the day, those are just words.”