Nick Kyrios Vs I. Karlovic. Photo: Eddie JimQuestion: name the player that Nick Kyrgios, who has a winning record this year against top 10 rivals bettered only by French Open top seed Novak Djokovic, took about eight years to find a way to beat? Answer: Jordan Thompson, the world No.92.
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The Australian pair first met as seven or eight-year-olds, and countless times as juniors thereafter, until Kyrgios finally broke his duck at 16-and-under level in a match at Melbourne Park. As for the secret to Thompson’s success, he says matter-of-factly that being a year older helped. Still, does the world know he has Kyrgios covered? “I highly doubt that the world’s gonna know I beat him when I was eight!” he laughs.

They are yet to meet at senior level, for their trajectories have been far different. Kyrgios was the emerging superstar always destined for greatness who is already among the top 20 in the world, the youngest man to reach two grand slam quarter-finals since Roger Federer. Thompson was the smaller, less-explosive, talent whose rise into the top 100 has been more gradual, but significant enough recently to earn him Tennis Australia’s reciprocal wildcard into the main draw at Roland Garros.

This week’s will be the first overseas major for the three-time winner of the Australian Open wildcard playoff, who has lost in the first round of his home slam each time. But Thompson is a much-improved player these days, more than 160 places higher that this time last year, aided by his first two Challenger titles, a couple of semis and some growing self-belief. A top-100 debut came last month, to the hard-working Sydneysider’s satisfaction and relief.

“I’ve been trying to do it as quick as I can, but I’ve gone at a pretty steady pace and the results have got better and better, so hopefully I can keep improving,” says Thompson, who has tried to bulk up and add power and aggression to his game under coach Des Tyson, the travelling party completed by former Junior Wimbledon champion Luke Saville.

“I’m maybe a little bit stronger, but I think that comes with age as well. As you get older you stop growing and start filling out a bit more. I don’t think I’m quite there yet, but definitely heading towards that way.”

The low-profile Australian No.4 recently won a Challenger in China on clay, “the toughest surface”, and relished the chance to avoid the slog of qualifying in favour of an extra week’s training. On the day of our interview he is on his way to practice at Roland Garros, travelling in style. “We’ve somehow scored centre court, too, so that’ll be great.”

Another benefit of his rise is the associated main draw perks. A nice hotel. Courtesy cars. “It’s definitely makes life easier. It’s better than playing a Future somewhere else where there’s no transport and the hotels aren’t great. It definitely feels a lot more special [when you’ve struggled]. You appreciate it a lot.”

Having already booked a career-first direct main draw entry at Wimbledon next month, the minimum $95,000 guaranteed even by two first-round losses will also be welcomed by a player who has barely won that amount during the rest of his best season. “Not used to seeing cheques that big,” he says, having since drawn a qualifier in the first round. “It definitely takes the pressure off and gives you a little bit of a head start, that amount of money.”

Relative penury has never been an issue for the likes of Kyrgios and Tomic, of course, and nor has that duo been an easy act to follow for those without the same outrageous talents “Yeah, watching Nick and Bernie play they make it look ridiculously easy, and they’re both so young, and Bernard’s been around so long and he’s only 23,” says Thompson. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Thompson is only 22, midway between the two. It may have taken a little longer, but it appears his time is coming now.  “Amazing opportunity,” he says of this, his latest, and also – in some respects – first. “If I could get a round at a grand slam under my belt, that’d be awesome.”

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