PARIS — It all started with what Nick Kyrgios insisted was an innocuous, if admittedly loud, directive to a ball kid to retrieve a towel between points – shouted above the din of spectators at the French Open’s cozy Court 1.
Chair umpire Carlos Ramos considered Kyrgios’ bark during a first-set tiebreaker Sunday too forceful and assessed a code violation warning for unsportsmanlike conduct. That led to a long-running, and occasionally curse-filled, argument from the 21-year-old Australian, who at one point said the official was “unbelievably biased.”
Much as the 17th-seeded Kyrgios made of the disagreement at the time – he could have been docked a point for his colorful language – he managed to set it aside eventually and worked his way through a 7-6 (6), 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory over 124th-ranked Marco Cecchinato of Italy with the help of 16 aces, providing a bit of a spark on an otherwise dreary, drenched Day 1 at Roland Garros.
“It didn’t put me off too much,” Kyrgios said of his flap with Ramos. “With someone like me that’s pretty emotional, it can frustrate me a little bit, but I felt like I dealt with it pretty well.”
Of the 32 matches on Sunday’s schedule, his was one of only nine completed before showers created a rain delay of more than 2 1/2 hours in the afternoon, interrupting matches involving No. 5 Kei Nishikori, No. 23 Jack Sock and others.
Winners included two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who acknowledged feeling “kind of down mentally” and was one game from bowing out against 59th-ranked Danka Kovinic of Montenegro before taking the final three for a 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 escape. Also advancing was No. 19 Benoit Paire of France, who needed five sets to get past 137th-ranked qualifier Radu Albot of Moldova.
Right after the ruling that bothered him, Kyrgios asked whether he was being sanctioned for raising his voice in the direction of the ball kid, explaining that “the crowd was too loud for him to hear me.”
“Really?” Kyrgios asked.
“It’s not that you said, `Towel!’ too loud,” Ramos said. “It’s the way you said it.”
Moments later, Kyrgios raised the topic again, insisting to Ramos, “I did nothing wrong” and referring to an episode this month at the Italian Open, when No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic reached out to grab the arm of an official who had stepped onto the court to examine a disputed ball mark.
“When Djokovic pushed the line umpire out of the way, he gets nothing,” Kyrgios said, punctuating the complaint with a swear word.
At his news conference afterward, Kyrgios was asked about the Djokovic reference and replied: “I mean, I think we all know, in this room, if that was me that did that, it would be an absolute circus. But if he did it, you know, nothing really happened of it. It speaks for itself.”
He also offered a hint of a conciliatory tone, saying “it’s not an easy job out there” for chair umpires and that he “might have to be a bit more patient” with ball kids.
Kyrgios is known for spectacular play – he’s beaten Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and twice reached Grand Slam quarterfinals – and boorish behavior. He was placed on probation by the ATP last year, with the risk of a 28-day suspension, for comments toward 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka during a match in Montreal.
Not everything came easily against Cecchinato. Kyrgios converted just 1 of 11 break points. He slipped on the damp court in the sixth game and tumbled into the net, staying down until Cecchinato offered a hand. And Kyrgios was forced to save two set points in the second tiebreaker.
Still, he played well enough to eliminate Cecchinato, who is 0-4 in Grand Slam matches and 3-18 at all tour-level tournaments and said he didn’t pay attention to the Kyrgios-Ramos exchanges.
Cecchinato also offered a nuanced defense of Kyrgios’ character.
“I like him, because he’s arrogant and sure of himself. … He knows he’s good,” Cecchinato said. “`Arrogant’ in a good sense – he knows he’s strong and one of the best players in the world. `Arrogant’ not in a pejorative way, but in a positive way.”