The rowdier the crowd, the better. Such a plea would usually be as welcome at Wimbledon as Russian and Belarusian players in 2022. But it is the ethos that drives the Special Ks show, coming to the All England Club over the next fortnight and featuring bullet-like serving, blistering forehands and bombastical quotes.
The Australian double act of Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis have played to full houses in Melbourne, Indian Wells and Miami this year, drawing crowds with their thrill-a-minute routine. A doubles match featuring the duo provides one of the wildest rides in tennis, ranging from brilliant to bewildering, occasionally in the same point and certainly in the same game.
Sitting courtside at Melbourne Park this year, with a new stadium court filled with screaming fans, proved a deafening experience. Kyrgios and Kokkinakis, who graduated to the Champion Ks after their run to the Australian Open title, thrived on the raucous atmosphere.
“The rowdier, the better, from everyone, honestly,” Kokkinakis said. But the Special Ks experience is not for everyone and it will be fascinating to see how the combination is received in SW19.
The brashness with which they have approached a discipline desperate for a profile boost has infuriated some rivals this year. Purists and fellow players alike struggled with the behaviour of fans drawn by a spectacle starkly different to the norm in doubles during their stunning run at Melbourne Park.
Tempers boiled over as a result, with experienced hands feeling slighted. A triumph over established combination Mate Pavić and Nikola Mektić almost ended in a locker room brawl when an aggrieved trainer of the beaten pair confronted the Australians waving a foam roller.
Kiwi Michael Venus described Kyrgios as an “absolute knob” after a quarter-final loss in front of the rowdy crowd so appreciated by Kokkinakis. Max Purcell, who partnered Matt Ebden against the pair in the all-Australian final, was conflicted by the experience and pondered how their brashness would be received overseas.
“They’re an exciting bloody pair to watch and play against, but I just think that some of the crowd they were bringing just weren’t quite respectful of their opponents,” Purcell said. “I’ve got nothing against them … I just think the crowd took it on themselves to go a little too far, but I think it’s great for tennis.”
In response, Kyrgios dubbed Purcell “a donut” for what, to be fair, was a balanced assessment, and other rivals “salty” after their losses. But the colourful quotes added by the pair after each match are a feature of the show as well.
Winners are grinners and the victors in this case were not just Kyrgios and Kokkinakis, who shared $675,000 when snaring their first grand slam title. Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley was thrilled by the surge in ticket sales for the doubles throughout the second week at Melbourne Park. The distraction provided a reprieve for the man who doubles as the Tennis Australia boss from the nasty headlines prompted by Novak Djokovic’s deportation saga.
Having skipped Roland Garros due to Kyrgios’s dislike of the shifting surface, Wimbledon hosts the pair’s return to grand slam tennis. The query is whether the Special Ks will prove a box office hit in London as well, or whether their rockstar antics on court are suitable solely for a local audience.
Based on their triumph in Melbourne and their form since, it would be foolish to dismiss Kyrgios and Kokkinakis as one-slam wonders. They are a new age doubles act, aided by the improvements in racket and string technology which has drastically altered the singles game as well.
The pair are more comfortable clubbing forehands from behind the baseline than poaching volleys at the net, which is a stark change to how doubles matches were once won. During a chat in February, former World No 1 doubles player and dual-Wimbledon champion Paul McNamee declared the Australians would be a formidable combination in any match.
“Nick and Thanasi proved that good singles players have the ability to beat very good doubles players if they are switched on and firing,” McNamee said. “Good singles players are still going to be top players at the end of the day, no matter the result.”
During the “sunshine swing” in California and Florida in March, they won a round at Indian Wells and reached the semi-finals in Miami, defeating quality combinations in both events. Wimbledon should favour them. Grass is certainly Kyrgios’s best surface and he performed well in two singles tournaments in Germany before withdrawing mid-event in Mallorca this week.
The 29th ranked doubles player’s serve is spectacular, with his precision as impressive as his power. Kokkinakis is no slouch in that area either. It is a simple equation. They need to return well, but if the pair serve near their peak, they will be difficult to beat wherever they play. Not that Kyrgios will mind too much whether they win or lose, as long as they are entertaining.
“My goal is to bring new fans that may not be following tennis to watch tennis,” he said in Melbourne. “That’s what I’m about. That’s what I want to bring. I think that’s how the sport is going to survive.”