Australian tennis great Pat Cash has given Australian Open organisers a serve for selling tickets to a centre court practice match between Nick Kyrgios and Novak Djokovic at Melbourne Park. Friday night's clash at Rod Laver Arena saw tickets sold for $20, with proceeds going to the Australian Tennis Foundation.
The exhibition match between Kyrgios and Djokovic took less than 60 minutes to sell out, prompting a swipe from the fiery Aussie towards his critics. “Wow Nick Kyrgios is bad for the sport! Wow what a disgrace, a national embarrassment! How dare he sell out another stadium, the arrogance,” Kyrgios tweeted in response.
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The match between the Aussie and the 21-time grand slam winner is one of several practice matches being played on Rod Laver Arena before the Australian Open gets underway. Wednesday's match between Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev saw the Serb leave the court with an apparent hamstring issue after just 36 minutes, having lost the first set 6-4.
Cash has taken aim at Tennis Australia (TA) over the practices matches, focusing most of his ire on Kyrgios' match against Djokovic, with Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley declaring it would be an "extravaganza" for fans and the sport. The modest price of tickets certainly presents the chance for fans of all walks of life to watch two of the world's best players go head to head.
However, Cash claims TA has "bent over backwards" to help Kyrgios prepare for the Australian Open and says no other grand slam would afford such an opportunity to its top-ranked player.
“What’s quite extraordinary, it’s actually hard to believe, Tennis Australia is putting on an event, on centre court, for Nick and Djokovic - I don’t know, is Novak gonna play, has he pulled out of it?” Cash said on SEN’s Sportsday.
“In what country, in what grand slam - would you have Wimbledon suddenly pulling out centre court or court 1 because Andy Murray needed a practice match? “It’s hard to believe, they certainly wouldn’t do it at the French Open. There’s kids day and whatever and you go and play that. At the French Open it wouldn’t happen.
“They’ve bent over backwards to help Nick to get some matches and to do this, I don’t know.”
TA's move could be seen as something of a peace offering with Kyrgios, who took aim at the governing body for his Newcombe Medal snub and said he had no interest representing Australia in the Davis Cup when he did not feel the support from his own country. “Maybe if Australia embraced me a little bit more, I would play it (Davis Cup) and bring home the trophy,” Kyrgios told AAP.
Cash conceded that Kyrgios is "a good kid and he means well" but suggested the 27-year-old was the architect of his own public perception. The 1987 Wimbledon champion said Kyrgios' frequent outbursts on court and on social media, as well as his reluctance to represent his country, make him an easy target for criticism.
“It’s beyond my ability to be able to understand what’s going on in Nick Kyrgios’ head, I think for most people," Cash added. “I think he’s a good kid and he means well, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say oh I’ve done this stuff for charity, but I won’t represent my country, why won’t you love me?
"I behave like an idiot and then wait a minute I donate some money, I’m a nice guy. I think he means well and we should always give him the benefit of the doubt in the end.”
Nick Kyrgios goes into Aus Open with limited preparation
Kyrgios will be hoping to go on another run at Melbourne Park like the one that took him to the Wimbledon final in 2022, where he lost to seven-time champion, Djokovic. However, Cash gave the Canberran little hope of winning the Australian Open singles title.
“He’s going to struggle with limited preparation. We’re putting high expectations on him ... if he gets through to the second week it’d be a bloody good effort.”
Kyrgios has thus far been unable to compete in any warm-up competition prior to the Australian Open due to a nagging ankle injury. He was a late withdrawal both from Australia's United Cup entry, as well as the Adelaide International.
His absence from the United Cup sparked a days-long verbal sparring match with team captain Lleyton Hewitt, with whom Kyrgios has clashed with before. Kyrgios openly took aim at Hewitt's comments about his withdrawal following top women's player Ajla Tomljanovic withdrawing on short notice.
After being criticised for his own withdrawal, Kyrgios took to Twitter to question whether or not Cup co-captain Sam Stosur would call out Tomljanovic, as he felt Hewitt had done to him. "I wonder if Stosur will throw her under the bus like our captain did for me….. ‘hard to prepare when you don’t know what’s going on’" Kyrgios wrote on Twitter.
Kyrgios has been seeded 20th for the Australian Open, ensuring the 2022 Wimbledon runner-up and US Open quarter-finalist is guaranteed to avoid a top-eight rival until at least the second week - if he makes it that far.
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