Before he became one of the world’s most controversial sportsmen, Nick Kyrgios dominated tennis tournaments across the Riverina and ACT, winning adult events as a teenager between 2008 and 2012.
But there was one popular venue he was never able to conquer – Griffith.
The Canberra tennis star, now aged 27, played in Griffith’s legendary MIA men’s open singles championship in 2009 and 2010. On both occasions, an Albury-Wodonga player stopped him dead in his tracks.
A 15-year-old Kyrgios was the top seed at the Griffith championships in 2010. But in the semi-finals, he was sensationally upset 7-6, 6-2 by an unseeded Brandon Vescio, who had only recently returned to tennis after a five-year hiatus.
Underlining Vescio’s achievement was the fact Kyrgios won his first International Tennis Federation event, Fiji’s South Pacific Open Junior Championship, later that same month.
In 2009, Mark Shanahan, now a coach at Wodonga’s Margaret Court Tennis Arena, thrashed sixth-seeded Kyrgios 6-2, 6-1, also in the semi-final. The match was played on Showcourt 6, the clay court next to the clubhouse, with spectators watching on the adjacent lawn.
“I actually don’t remember much about the match, to be honest… I recall Nick got quite frustrated; it’s what you would expect, he was quite young,” he said.
“I remember meeting and shaking hands with Nick’s mum after the match. She was very nice.”
Mark Shanahan would go on to coach Western Australian tennis star Matt Ebden, who won the Wimbledon Men’s Doubles final this year. The Wodonga-based coach has often crossed paths with Kyrgios on the pro tour.
“Not once have we spoken about our match in Griffith in 2009,” he said.
En route to the 2009 semi-final, Kyrgios beat Griffith tennis stalwart Andrew Noad 6-1, 6-4 in the quarters. Noad, now an assistant principal at Griffith East Public School, has continued to play in the MIA Open every year, partnering with daughter Mia in the parent-child doubles last month.
A number of Griffith club members recall seeing Kyrgios at the MIA Open, but there were no reports of the then teenager shouting at umpires, making tweener shots or commenting on the alcohol consumption of spectators.
Veteran Griffith tennis coach Cheryl Rawle said she remembers a young Kygrios being very confident – but her focus was more on the local Riverina talent.
“Mark Shanahan was the best volleyer I’ve ever seen. Both Brandon and Mark were super talents, as good as any young player in Australia at the time,” she said.
“The Riverina has produced some amazing players but our isolation and geography make it so difficult. Young players in rural areas have to do an enormous amount of travel and spend so much money when they try and go professional.”
Griffith Tennis Club president Danny Dossetor also played Nick Kyrgios in a 2009 MIA Open doubles match. Dossetor partnered with brother Jason while Kyrgios played with Andrew Zelea. The Dossetors won 6-2, 6-2 but Danny Dossetor said he couldn’t remember a thing about the match.
Griffith’s MIA Open, first played in 1920, is one of the longest continuing sporting events in Australia’s history.
The next and 102nd instalment of the tournament will occur over the June long weekend in 2023.
Events cater to all players from beginners to professionals. New players are always welcome at the Club, which provides lessons, weekly competitions and social tennis.