WASHINGTON — Nick Kyrgios hammed it up by delivering a repaired sneaker to his opponent, No. 1-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas. He celebrated one key shot with a shimmy. He marked the last point by shaking a fan’s hand.
The Nick Kyrgios Experience was in full effect at the Citi Open on Saturday night – and he played well, too, hitting 19 aces, saving a match point and edging Tsitsipas 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7) in a semifinal about as even as can be and filled with all manner of memorable moments across its 2 hours, 7 minutes.
How close was it? Each man took a total of 91 points. Each won 48 of his 58 first-serve points; each won 16 of his 33 second-serve points.
“Nick, in my opinion, is underrated. I guess the rivalry between me and him – it looks bright,” Tsitsipas said. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to face each other plenty of times in the future.”
The 52nd-ranked Kyrgios will seek his sixth ATP title Sunday, when he faces No. 3 seed Daniil Medvedev or Peter Gojowczyk in the final.
That match will be hard-pressed to compete with Kyrgios vs. Tsitsipas, which had some fantastic shotmaking by both men, two creative players in their early 20s. The most GIF-worthy interlude came during a changeover early in the third set, when the shoe issues that have been plaguing Tsitsipas cropped up again, creating a comical scene.
Tsitsipas says friction from the way he slides on hard courts leads to problems with his sneakers’ laces, which is why he has been changing footwear during matches. That bothered his quarterfinal foe, Benoit Paire, so much that Paire went and yanked off a shoe himself in a sort of protest.
This time, a ball boy brought a problematic shoe to Tsitsipas’ father – who is also his coach – up in the stands for fixing. Kyrgios waited out the process by leaning on a screen at the back of the court, then decided to speed things along by getting that sneaker from Dad and carrying it across the court to Tsitsipas. Kyrgios presented it on bended knee, with head bowed, as if to say, “Here, my lord.”
Kyrgios smiled. Tsitsipas gave him a thumbs-up. Spectators reveled in it all.
These two never had faced each other and, in the past, they’ve had their differences. But the duo played doubles together in Washington earlier in the week and apparently hit it off.
The concluding tiebreaker was a roller-coaster. Kyrgios led 5-1. Tsitsipas, who had his right thigh taped by a trainer after skidding to an awkward stop in the opening game, seized five consecutive points to lead 6-5 and hold a match point. Kyrgios erased that with a 132 mph service winner.
On Kyrgios’ first match point of his own, at 7-6, he flubbed a slice forehand. Before the second, he spoke to a front-row spectator, as though seeking advice, closed out the victory with a big serve followed by a forehand winner, then raced back to shake the man’s hand.
Kyrgios is most definitely a showman, someone who does the sorts of things few, if any, other tennis players do, for better or for worse.
“Some people love him. Some people hate him. I believe we need people like him in the game,” Tsitsipas said. “Otherwise, everything becomes too serious. He’s fun.”
Earlier, American teens Coco Gauff and Caty McNally won their first pro tournament as a doubles team by beating the fourth-seeded duo of Maria Sanchez and Fanny Stollar 6-2, 6-2.
“For both of us,” Gauff said, “it means a lot.”
McNally’s impressive showing in Washington included a run to the semifinals in singles – but that’s where it ended for her in that event Saturday with a 7-6 (5), 6-2 loss to Camila Giorgi of Italy.
In Sunday’s final, Giorgi will face Jessica Pegula, whose parents own the NFL’s Bills and NHL’s Sabres.