King Kyrgios may soon usurp the throne. Contentious Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios has been given a free ride to the Wimbledon final, after world number 4 Rafael Nadal withdrew from the iconic English tournament due to an abdominal injury. The shock announcement now sees Kyrgios become Australia’s first men’s grand slam finalist since Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open in 2005.
Rafael Nadal Injury
According to reports, Nadal has a seven-millimetre tear to his abdomen, suffered during his gruelling five-set victory over Taylor Fritz in the quarter-final. While the injury had caused the Spaniard visual discomfort, Nadal was confident he would be able to take on Kyrgios in the pair’s scheduled semi-final duel, however, in an announcement on Friday, he confirmed the pain had become too much.
“Unfortunately, as you can imagine, if I am here, I have to pull out from the tournament. As everybody saw yesterday, I had been suffering with pain in the abdominal. I was not OK there, as yesterday I said. That’s confirmed. I have a tear in the muscle in the abdominal,” Nadal said in a press conference on Friday morning. “I was thinking during the whole day about the decision to make.”
Tennis injury expert Dr Raj, DPT revealed that Nadal likely has a strain on his rectus abdominus muscle, a core muscle involved in spinal flexion and spinal extension control.
“The fact that the rectus abdominus muscle is on the side opposite (AKA contralateral) of the dominant arm, it is the most commonly injured abdominal muscle in tennis players because it takes on a significant amount of stress. It is the key conduit between the upper and lower body,” Dr. Raj said in a YouTube analysis. “With the amount of stress the contralateral RA muscle takes on, it’s a painful and nagging injury. Based on Rafa playing on, he very likely has a mold grade 1 strain.”
The shock announcement puts an end to a potential battle that had tennis fans licking their lips. Kyrgios famously upset the 22-time Grand Slam winner at Wimbledon in their first meeting in 2014 in the round of 16. Since then, Nadal has won six of their eight matches, including a brutal second-round bout at Wimbledon in 2019. Before he made the decision to pull out of the tournament, Nadal described the Aussie as a fierce competitor, particularly at Wimbledon.
“Nick is a great player in all the surfaces but especially here on grass,” Nadal told the New York Times. “He’s having a great grass-court season. It’s going to be a big challenge. I need to be at my 100 per cent to keep having chances, and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
What is the Lucky Loser Rule?
Kyrgios will now face the winner of the remaining semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Cameron Norrie, however, the tennis world is divided on his automatic admission. Critics have been quick to voice their advocacy for American Taylor Fritz, who was only slightly bettered by Nadal in his five-set epic. Rumblings from the wider community have suggested that Wimbledon could employ its ‘Lucky Loser’ clause.
A unique rule rarely utilised in Grand Slam tournaments, the ‘Lucky Loser’ clause allows players who have lost qualifying or opening round matches to return to the draw should another player pull out with injury. While unusual, it wouldn’t be the first time Wimbledon has flirted with the rule.
Back in 2005, American player Justin Gimelstob faced George Bastl from Switzerland in the final qualification round, however, Gimelstob aggravated a back injury and was forced to withdraw. Gimelstob was reinstated in the tournament, where he reached the third round, before going down to Lleyton Hewitt.
In this instance, sports analysts are questioning whether the decision to let Kyrgios walkover is the correct one. New York Times tennis reporter Christopher Clarey tweeted his advocacy for Fritz to re-enter the draw under the rule, suggesting that a subsequent Kyrgios-Fritz semi-final would be beneficial.
“It happens so rarely, but I still think it’s worth exploring,” Clarey tweeted. “When a player withdraws this late in a Grand Slam or before a major tour final, the beaten player should be able to take the slot. In this case, Fritz would play Kyrgios as a ‘lucky loser’. The show must go on.”
Nick Kyrgios Controversy
The fast forward in Kyrgios’ Grand Slam career comes at an interesting time. News broke just days ago that the Canberra-based tennis star will face court next month over an alleged assault in December last. According to an All England Club spokesperson, the tournament organisers were made aware of the legal proceedings.
“We have been made aware of legal proceedings involving Nick Kyrgios in Australia, and as they are ongoing, we are not in a position to offer a comment,” the spokesperson told ABC. “We are in touch with Nick’s team and he remains scheduled to play his quarter-final match tomorrow.”
Kyrgios has since revealed that while the allegations breaking had placed a strain on him, he did not let it affect his game. Just hours after the reports broke, the world number 40 took down Chilean Cristian Garín in straight sets, setting up the now-duped Nadal match-up. He also came under fire for wearing a pair of red Nike Air Jordans with a matching baseball cap, completely going against the classic dress code.
For the 27-year-old Aussie star, a Wimbledon victory would be a strange turn of events, but it appears, the tennis gods are on his side. Just months after claiming a maiden Grand Slam doubles win at the Australian Open, the controversial Aussie sits just one game away from tennis’ highest peak, but there is a mountain in front of him. And he goes by the name Djokovic.