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Kyrgios out of Wimbledon, leaving all eyes on de Minaur

Nick Kyrgios has made a last-minute withdrawal from this year’s Wimbledon tournament, leaving the hopes of Australian fans resting with our top male player, Alex de Minaur.

Kyrgios, who was famously runner-up 12 months ago, announced on Monday morning (AEST), only a matter of hours before he was to start his campaign on court one on Monday against the gritty Belgian veteran David Goffin, that he was pulling out of the tournament due to injury.

Repeating his form of 2022 was already a near-Herculean task, given Kyrgios has played just one match this year courtesy of a nagging knee injury.

“I’m really sad to say that I have to withdraw from Wimbledon this year,” Kyrgios wrote on social media.

“I tried my hardest to be ready after my surgery and be able to step on the Wimbledon courts again.

“During my comeback I experienced some pain in my wrist … as a precaution I had it scanned and it came back showing a torn ligament in my wrist.

“I tried everything to be able to play and I am disappointed to say that I just didn’t have enough time to manage it before Wimbledon.”

His about-face came just hours after he had confirmed plans to play in London.

“I’ve worked extremely hard to just even be able to prepare and try and play this tournament,” he said in an engaging media conference.

“People forget how strenuous the sport is, but I dare someone to go out there and play four sets with Novak [Djokovic].

“I’ve been trying to emulate a little bit of the match kind of load that I’m going to be having (playing against Jordan Thompson on Saturday). Obviously you can’t do that with a grand slam.

“Last year, first round I played Paul Jubb, and it went for four hours. I’ve been doing as much as you possibly can a couple days before Wimbledon. You don’t want to over-push it either.”

Nightmare draw

Kyrgios’ withdraw switches the Australian focus to the in-form De Minaur, the 15th seed who reached the prestigious Queen’s final just nine days ago and has emerged as the credible leader of a vibrant quorum of Australian men keen to make a serious dent in the draw this fortnight.

But already there is a caveat. Just as he would hope to surpass his fourth-round showing last year, De Minaur has been handed a nightmare opening week.

A win over the Belgian, the qualifier Kimmer Coppejans on Tuesday should be a formality but a peek at the rest of the Australian No.1’s task reveals the likely pairing of Matteo Berrettini (Wimbledon runner-up two years ago) in round two, Alexander Zverev in round three followed by the world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz.

De Minaur, who spent last week resting, hitting the golf range and watching his girlfriend – British No.1 Katie Boulter – play at Eastbourne, was upbeat if phlegmatic on Saturday.

“I never like looking ahead but assume the media will tell me every single player I’m playing against,” he said.

“From what I’ve heard, It’s a tough section, but I’m looking forward to it. Where I want to be is playing the players in the world in big events, on the big courts. If I hang in long enough in tournaments I am going  to start playing the matches I want to be in.”

Before De Minaur spoke to the media on Saturday, a string of Australian players were put up for interview atop a gleaming new fifth-floor balcony peering out towards Centre Court and, directly beyond it, London’s array of city skyscrapers. Inspiration, for any player, is everywhere at Wimbledon.

Jordan Thompson comes in with impressive form on grass. Photo: EPA

Thompson continues to believe

Even before any play has begun, Thompson came up with what may prove to be the most surreal sight this fortnight, shivering so hard after a long ice bath (the hot water meant as an antidote to the freezing cold wasn’t working, he told us) that he was asked if he wanted to call off his chat after just a few minutes.

Gamely he soldiered on, a statement of intent that Australia’s men’s tennis boss Lleyton Hewitt would have approved of immensely and which Thompson will need against the doughty young American Brandon Nakashima on Monday.

The Sydneysider, bunking locally with his mate Chris O’Connell, has a more than even chance of progressing though, eight wins on grass in the past few weeks make him a man in sublime form, an imperative should he reach round two where Djokovic looms.

“I guess that’s why we play tennis, to play the best players on the biggest stages. So I don’t need a reason to try extra hard,” Thompson said.

“You’ve got to believe that you can win. He’s probably won the tournament eight times but if you’re going on the court and you think you’re gonna lose, there’s no point going out there.”

Max Purcell is upbeat about his chances of upsetting Andrey Rublev. Photo: EPA

Purcell eyes upsets

Perhaps the most aggressive pre-play approach came from reigning Wimbledon men’s doubles champion Max Purcell.

Doubles matters, said the 25-year-old who has surged to No.62 in the singles world rankings but is adamant his future lies in the one player format.

“I would like to be known for doing damage in the singles here,” he said. “I see no reason why I can’t compete on this surface.”

A first-round draw against the seventh seed – the ferocious hitting Andrey Rublev – on Monday is not a barrier to progression, he said.

“I am not here to make up the numbers,” he said. “[Grass] is a surface that evens everyone out, so I feel there’s no reason any of us Australians can’t take out the big players.”

Friday’s interview fest, however, was a tale of two genders, a burgeoning Australian men’s game with eight players in the singles draw – bettered by only two countries – paired with a scorching denouncement of the state of Australian women’s tennis post Ash Barty with just two contenders starting out.

Daria Saville (right) is returning from a serious leg injury and feels she has nothing to lose. Photo: PA/IPA Milestone

No pressure on Saville

The women on show, however – Storm Hunter, who came through qualifying at Roehampton, and Daria Saville, just back from a cruciate leg injury – were first-rate fare, ambassadorial, fresh and honest by turn.

Finding a cure for the dearth of top-flight Australian women did not come as easily though.

Saville alluded to the sacrifice of players being far away from home for long periods and not wanting to be on the road but a panacea, of any sort, was unforthcoming.

“I don’t know, all the girls that are trying to get to grand slams maybe they are putting too much pressure on themselves,” she said.

“They are working hard and the coaches are working hard, but the reality is that there are only two players in the draw. It’s more complicated than saying there is [just] one reason.”

Saville faces Katie Boulter on Tuesday.

“All the pressure is on her. I’ve nothing to lose. This is my second tournament back,” Saville said. ”I will just go out there and compete as hard as I can and enjoy the tournament. Probably because of Katie it will be a nice court. I’m just looking forward to restarting my career again.”

Storm Hunter’s success at Roehampton and in qualifiers has her primed to advance. Photo: AP

Hunter by name and nature

Hunter, meanwhile, faces China’s Wang Xinyu on Monday and despite a 2-0 head-to-head deficit, an Australian win would not be an upset.

Hunter reached the last four in the Wimbledon doubles in 2021 and has the game and approach to win a singles match or two this week.

Her Roehampton heroics where she was just one of 11 Australians (men and women) to come through the three match qualifiers, will make her feel she can thrive on grass and its accompanying chaos.

“The [Roehampton] courts are super close. There are people walking constantly. Everyone’s in the moment, trying to qualify,” she said.

“In the match next to me, the men were having a four-, five-set match. You could see them and everyone’s getting quite loud and obviously one qualified and you see the emotion of that so at times it was hard to focus on your match. So you have to lock in, mindful of being in the present, and that was the biggest thing I did.

“Those qualifying matches, three tough matches, really helped. And sometimes on grass you’ve really got to really back yourself.

“If you hesitate a little bit, the ball bounces are going to get a little tricky and hesitation doesn’t help. It was a really good test of my ability to back myself and keep going, so I feel really confident for Monday.”

Name game

The former Ms Storm Sanders comes too with the best name in tennis courtesy of her wedding last year to Loughlin Hunter.

“When we first started dating, we said ‘One day if we did get married, I’d be Storm Hunter’ and all my friends thought it would be quite funny and here we are, we got married and I was always going to change my name. I didn’t think Storm Sanders could get better, but Storm Hunter definitely is.”

Tellingly perhaps, Loughlin recently abandoned his full-time job to travel with Storm.

“Obviously, I’m very lucky to do what I do, but it means a sacrifice not to be at home with family. I’d spend six weeks with my husband all year so we had to make a decision that we’re both very, very happy about.

“Now we can travel full-time and instead of going home, I can now go and play those extra singles events. It allows me a bit more flexibility, otherwise I think I might constantly be thinking of when I’m going home to Australia. Now I can just focus fully on my tennis.”

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