It was a contest of opposites. Kyrgios is on the rise, while Stepanek has been on a steady slide since peaking a decade ago. Even in playing style, they vary widely. Kyrgios boasts heavy, looping ground strokes of modern-day tennis, while Stepanek hits flat, abbreviated swings on both sides.
Though it might seem like these two men have nothing in common, they actually have a strong penchant for each other, and could even form an odd duo on tour in the future.
Before the tournament began, Kyrgios hinted that he’s working with Stepanek, in some form or another.
“Not so much coaching,” Kyrgios said. “Yeah, he was just helping me a little bit. So it's just, like, I'm playing him now. It's pretty crazy.”
He’s ranked No. 121 now, but the 37-year-old Stepanek has had a stellar and lengthy career. His best showing at Wimbledon was a quarterfinal finish in 2006, and he’s well known for having clinched the deciding Davis Cup title match for the Czech Republic in 2012 and 2013. He’s also had a successful doubles career, winning two majors and reaching as high as No. 4.
Kyrgios knew he had a tough first-round challenge, joking that while he’d like to see Stepanek return for another Wimbledon, he hopes he doesn’t have to face him again.
“The way he plays on grass, he's tactically so switched on,” Kyrgios said. “I mean, he volleys well, he slices well. I think the court helps him out with his ground strokes. They're very flat.”
So, will Stepanek really be seen in Kyrgios’ courtside box instead of across the net from him?
“I don't really know what I want yet with a coach,” Kyrgios said. “So for me, [it’s nice] just to have him give me advice here and there while his career is still going. You never know. When he stops, he might step into a role where I might bring him along to tournaments. I don't know. I'm more than willing to give it a go with a guy like that, that has had such great success for a long time.”
It’s clear that the 21-year-old has a lot of admiration and respect for Stepanek, but he’s also got plenty of that for his next opponent, Dustin Brown.
“I feel like we started to get close obviously last year, [playing] IPTL,” Kyrgios said. “…Me and Dustin have been mates for a long time now. I'm a massive fan of his tennis.”
Brown beat Dusan Lajovic in a five-set battle, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, and though the German is not yet focused on their second-round match, he had only kind things to say about the young Aussie.
“He’s a really nice guy,” Brown said of Kyrgios. “We are friends. We will go out and have fun and play good tennis. Besides that, not try and worry too much about it.”
The tennis world is captivated by what’s to come in their sure-to-be-entertaining matchup, and it sounds like Kyrgios is just as thrilled about the occasion.
“When you're playing a guy like Dustin, you hope it's not a day when he's feeling it— he can't miss, he's enjoying it,” Kyrgios said. “When he's playing like that, we all know what he can do, what he's capable of.
“He's a great player. As well, he's exciting. I'm ready to have fun out there with him.”