|Venue: All England Club Date: 10 July Time: 14:00 BST|
|Coverage: Live on BBC One from 13:00 BST, with coverage across radio, online, BBC iPlayer, Red Button, Connected TVs and mobile app.|
What might happen when two of the most polarising players in tennis meet on their sport’s biggest stage? “Fireworks” – according to Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic takes on Australian Nick Kyrgios in the Wimbledon men’s singles final on Sunday – one a 20-time Grand Slam champion, the other a major singles final debutant.
Both combustible on a tennis court.
From racquet smashing to arguing with umpires and testy exchanges with the crowd, these two players have a catalogue of fiery episodes behind them that make this a fascinating match-up.
Of course, in front of royalty and with a prestigious trophy at stake, they might be on their best behaviour, but since Djokovic himself is expecting an explosive final, let’s look at why that might be.
Rants and racquet-smashing
Both players have had plenty of run-ins with umpires over the years. If they are not happy about something, they often do not hold back.
In the 2020 Australian Open final Djokovic tapped umpire Damien Dumusois’ on the foot, angrily telling him “You made yourself famous in this match. Great job” when he was unhappy about receiving time violations. The Serb later apologised for his outburst.
Seven months later Djokovic was defaulted from the US Open after accidentally hitting a ball at a line judge in his fourth-round match – he had struck the ball in frustration at losing his serve and hit it behind him angrily.
The 35-year-old has also taken his feelings out on his equipment, including a spectacular demolition of a racquet in Monte Carlo in 2019 – and throwing another one into the crowd in that same match – and also mangling another in his 2021 Australian Open quarter-final against Alexander Zverev.
A ball girl was left sweeping up the pieces off the court after that one in Melbourne and while he acknowledged that it was not the best way to channel his emotions, Djokovic added: “When I broke that racquet, things started to shift for me in a positive direction.”
Kyrgios, too, has obliterated racquets, just last month leaving a heap of metal and strings by the side of his seat during a changeover in a victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas in Halle.
They do not all go to waste – he handed one barely recognisable racquet to a young fan in Washington in 2019 as a souvenir.
The 27-year-old has also had countless code violations for swearing and has calculated he has paid around 800,000 Australian dollars (455,000) in fines during his career.
‘Love-hate relationship’ with crowd
After his semi-final win over Britain’s Cameron Norrie on Friday, Djokovic was booed by some parts of Centre Court when he blew a kiss at a fan who had been bothering him.
There was an even louder boo when he mentioned his next opponent, Kyrgios.
It will be interesting to see who gets the greater support from the near 15,000 watching from the stands on Sunday.
Despite his huge success and supreme talent, Djokovic has often found himself unable to warm the hearts of those watching him.
When he faced Roger Federer in the 2019 Wimbledon final, an epic encounter was marred by booing of the Serb.
His misses were clapped and he was jeered in a partisan atmosphere more often found at football stadiums than on Centre Court.
Djokovic saved match points and went on to win a classic final, with pundits urging fans to show more respect to a great player.
He often cups his ear towards the crowd to encourage cheers for him when they are not forthcoming.
His reluctance to have a Covid-19 vaccine has not sat well with some – a shout of ‘Novax’ could be heard during the Norrie match – and his deportation from Australia earlier this year over his vaccination status also divided opinion.
But it seems clear that Djokovic just wants to be liked – he was moved to tears in last year’s US Open final by the Arthur Ashe Stadium’s raucous reaction while he tried unsuccessfully to fight back against Daniil Medvedev.
Kyrgios, meanwhile, also has a complex relationship with those watching him.
He admitted to spitting in the direction of a fan during his first-round match at Wimbledon – receiving a $10,000 (8,300) fine for his behaviour in that match.
But he has also engaged warmly with fans, asking one in the crowd where he should serve on match point during last year’s Wimbledon.
He also remains compelling viewing – there has barely been a spare seat at his matches at Wimbledon in the past two weeks, and his trick shots make popular video clips.
“It’s a love-hate relationship with Nick,” Australian doubles great Todd Woodbridge told BBC Sport. “People are not in favour of the way he behaves, the way he speaks and the way he respects people but they do watch him. For that reason we’ll be looking at huge ratings for television in Australia.”
The Wimbledon final comes at the end of a week Kyrgios found out he is set to appear in court in Australia next month in relation to an allegation of common assault.
Even if you take emotions out of the equation, the brand of tennis Kyrgios brings is explosive enough.
The underarm serves and hot dogs mean he mixes the unconventional and unpredictable with a huge serve that is notoriously difficult to break.
The pair have played each other twice – with Kyrgios winning both encounters in 2017 in straight sets.
“He plays lights-out every time he steps out on to the court,” Djokovic said of Kyrgios, with whom he in the past had a spiky relationship before a new-found ‘bromance’.
“Just a lot of power in his serve and his game. So I’m sure he’s going to go for it. No doubt he’s going to be aggressive. I expect him to do that.”
In the past Kyrgios has spoken of his struggles with motivation – saying training is boring and even being banned for a perceived lack of effort – but that is not the case with the big occasions.
“He’s a big-match player,” Djokovic said. “If you see his career, the best tennis he’s played is always against the top guys. That’s why we all respect him, because we know what he can come up with.
“The experience that I have at this level, playing in the finals against someone that has never played a Grand Slam final, could be slightly in my favour. At the same time, knowing who he is and how he goes about his tennis and his attitude on the court, he doesn’t seem to be falling under pressure much.
“One thing is for sure there are going to be a lot of fireworks emotionally from both of us,” he added.
“It’s going to be interesting match.”