By John Stonestreet
PARIS (Reuters) – The cries of “allez les bleus” echoed around the packed yet intimate surroundings of court three while French Open fans queued half a dozen deep along two of its sides in the hope of catching some play.
Those chanting inside were patriotically drumming up support for Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, the second-seeded all-French pairing in Wednesday’s first-round doubles match.
But for many the biggest draw was the only man actually playing in blue – Australian Nick Kyrgios.
“It’s like a Davis Cup tie in here,” said French spectator Yves-Marie Mollo, a club player from Rouen, as the first set of a hard-fought encounter reached a crescendo with a pulsating 18-point tiebreak.
With the world’s media already divided over whether Kyrgios did or didn’t live up to his troublemaker reputation in Tuesday’s first-round singles win over Philipp Kohlschreiber, what did Yves-Marie think of the mercurial Australian?
“He’s spectacular, he’s a character… He’s important for the future of the game. Fans need to have the impression that players take pleasure in playing.”
Bouncing across the clay like a coiled spring, Kyrgios fired down whiplash serves and mixed crushing overheads and thundering groundstrokes with deft dropshots.
After most points, he mouthed encouragement and fist-pumped with his lower-ranked partner Jordan Thompson, with whom he shared the singles duties in last month’s Davis Cup win over the United States.
For the Tonna-Barthet family, over from Ireland and settled in on court three for the duration, the opportunity to see Kyrgios was the main reason they had queued outside in the morning.
“It’s Australia. They’ll never give up. C’mon Australia,” dad Claude shouted out.
Reigning Wimbledon champions, the pedigree French pairing stood across the net. But gradually the Aussies reeled them in, embracing after three unreturned Kyrgios serves in the final game sealed a 7-6(8) 4-6 6-3 win.
“In an age of synthetic personalities he’s got something different that you don’t see so much any more,” Claude added.
“He wears his heart on his sleeve and he’s going to be a great guy. So he’s worth investing in.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)