January 16, 2021

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Flashback: Kyrgios a good pal at Roehampton

Nick Kyrgios supporting his peeps at the 2019 Wimbledon qualifying.

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The UTR match going on Wednesday afternoon in Brisbane between Bernard Tomic and Akira Santillan brought back memories of – can it really be less than a year and a half ago?

The last time they had Wimbledon, Nick Kyrgios spent the better part of a couple of days out in the wilds of the Bank of England Sport Ground at Roehampton.

With a small crowd, and no one bugging him too much, Kyrgios and a few other friends dug in to watch his friend Tommy Paul take on Mikael Torpegaard in the second round of qualifying.

Paul got bagelled in the first set. But showing more fight and grit that he himself seems to believe he has in him (his improvement in that area is directly related to his steady rise in the rankings since then), he fought back to win 0-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Kyrgios ducks out to check how his man Santillan was going. It’s good to be tall.

Kyrgios was there for every point – except for a couple of walkabouts to see how another kid, countryman Akira Santillan, was going a couple of courts over.

For a couple of days in the wilds of Roehampton in 2019, Nick Kyrgios played supportive pal to his friends Tommy Paul and Akira Santillan.

Tough loss for Santillan

Santillan, then 22, has never really broken through despite being hugely talented (with a sweet one-handed backhand). He got to No. 7 in the ITF junior rankings, and won the big US Open junior tuneup tournament outside Montreal back in 2014.

He’s also gone from being Aussie, to Japanese, and back to Aussie again. But what’s probably hurt him more than anything is his on-court temperament. He’s a hothead.

On this day, after beating Jurij Rodionov in the first round, he faced veteran Belgian lefty Ruben Bemelmans. It was a tough one, won by Bemelmans 6-7, 6-3, 12-10.

Santillan had a tough loss in Wimbledon qualifying in 2019, and didn’t take it well.

Santillan was beside himself when he left the court.

The poor ITF doping guy, just doing his job, got the absolute worst of it.

Uncle Nick to the rescue

By the next day, after Kyrgios clearly had a word, a calmer Santillan and Kyrgios hung out back at Roehampton, cheering on Paul as he played his final round of qualifying against big Czech lefty Jiri Vesely to reach his first career Wimbledon main draw.

This was only Paul’s second attempt at qualifying, and his first in three years.

Vesely, on the other hand, had a terrific resumé but was having a down moment in the rankings. As a wild card in 2014, he upset Gaël Monfils before losing to Kyrgios in the third round.

In 2016, he beat Dominic Thiem in three tiebreaks in the second round before losing in five sets to Thomas Berdych.

In 2018, he beat Diego Schwartzman and Fabio Fognini before losing to Rafael Nadal in the fourth round.

It was a straight-sets win against Paul. And after that, Vesely rode it to the third round, upsetting Alexander Zverev in his opener.

Santillan

Kyrgios had a pat on the back and words of comfort for Paul, too, after his loss.

He’s a complex fellow, Kyrgios. But here’s a side most people don’t get to see.

Tomic vs. Santillan – talent and potential on display

But back to the match that had us digging through the archives in the first place.

On a windy afternoon in Melbourne, Tomic and Santillan – talent to burn, between the two of them – looked to get a little confidence before whatever the Australian summer will be.

(It starts about 5h40 into the stream).