It is the most unlikely friendship in tennis and on Sunday it will face the ultimate test when Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios go head-to-head in the Wimbledon final.
To say the relationship between tennis’ two enfants terribles was acrimonious would be an understatement. Kyrgios previously described Djokovic as a ‘tool’, a ‘strange cat’ and someone with a ‘sick obsession with wanting to be liked’, he never has been one to mince his words.
The Serb is somewhat more diplomatic, but just 18 months ago was saying: “Off the court, I don’t have much respect for him, to be honest.”
And yet now the pair are exchanging messages on Instagram and more importantly, preparing to face one another on Centre Court on Sunday. Djokovic has the chance to win a 21st Grand Slam title and seventh Wimbledon, Kyrgios is hoping to claim his first.
Ironically, the turning point in the relationship came at the time that Djokovic’s popularity was at its lowest, Kyrgios has always been a contrarian.
When the six-time Wimbledon champion found himself being deported from Australia over his vaccine status in January, Kyrgios was one of the few players to come out and publicly defend him. It did not go unnoticed.
As for how to describe their current relationship, it depends who you ask.
Djokovic said: “I don’t know if I can call it a bromance yet, but we definitely have a better relationship than what it was probably prior to January this year.
“But when it was really tough for me in Australia, he was one of the very few players that came out publicly and supported me and stood by me. That’s something I truly appreciate. So I respect him for that a lot.”
Kyrgios goes a little further: “We definitely have a bit of a bromance now, which is weird. I think everyone knows there was no love lost for a while there. I think it was healthy for the sport.
“I felt like I was almost the only kind of player and someone to stand up for him with all that kind of drama at Australian Open. I feel like that’s where respect is kind of earned. Not on the tennis court, but I feel like when a real-life crisis is happening and someone stands up for you…
“We actually message each other on DMs in Instagram now and stuff. It’s real weird. Actually, earlier in the week, he was like, ‘Hopefully I’ll see you Sunday’.”
That Djokovic is back in the final here should come as little surprise. He dropped a set and looked nervous for about an hour against home favourite Cameron Norrie, but once he found his rhythm, he ran out a comprehensive 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 victor.
It is Kyrgios’ presence in the final that is the anomaly. Earlier this year he dropped out of the world’s top 100 and even at 27, you had to question whether he would ever put a sustained run together at a slam.
As a teenager, the Australian became the first man since Rafael Nadal to reach multiple Grand Slam quarter-finals before turning 20. The problem was, he failed to back it up. He had not made it back to the last eight in more than seven years since.
The former junior standout looked to be the latest in a long line of age-group champions who could not quite convert at senior level.
His feuds with rivals, officials and fans ensured he was rarely out of the headlines, but Kyrgios the tennis player became increasingly irrelevant at the business end of the biggest events.
In some ways, that should not have come as a surprise. To celebrate his first slam final, the Australian posted a picture of himself as a chubby youngster on social media. No one would have tipped that child to become a future tennis professional, let alone a Grand Slam finalist.
And it is that unlikely path that Kyrgios was eager to focus on when asked about his journey to this point.
“I never thought I’d be here at all, to be brutally honest with you,” said Kyrgios, one of just two active players with a winning record against Djokovic having won both previous meetings back in 2017.
“I think it’s just hilarious because I don’t think I’m supposed to be someone like me.
“I look at that photo, I grew up in Canberra, the courts I trained on were horrible, and now I’m in the chance to play the Wimbledon final.
“I think it’s honestly an inspiration for any sort of kid who’s kind of been outcasted or just been surrounded by negative headlines or negative clouds or just being brought down from a lot of different angles.
“I feel like it’s possible, it’s still possible to achieve something quite special if you just believe in yourself. I never really lost belief in myself.
“I think that’s just a strong message for any kid who doubts himself. Just keep going. Look at that photo, I literally look like Manny from ‘Modern Family’.”