Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Winnipegger Kylar traded shots with Djokovic

Local warmed up world No. 2 prior to $1-M win

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Novak Djokovic hit some tennis balls with Winnipegger Kevin Kylar for about 45 minutes on Sunday and then went out and won $1 million.

The world's No. 2-ranked player from Serbia defeated living legend Roger Federer from Switzerland 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Calif.

Unfortunately for the 19-year-old Kylar, who worked as a practice and hitting partner last week for the men and women at arguably the biggest non-Grand Slam tennis tournament in the world, he didn't work on a commission basis.

In fact, he and the other 10 or so hitting partners didn't earn a dime for their sweat equity, but they did make a few bucks in tips.

"(The tournament organizers) called me Saturday afternoon and asked if I wanted to warm up Djokovic at 11 o'clock on the stadium court. Of course, I said, 'Yes,' " Kylar said.

"It was a little bit surreal. You watch the guy on TV so many times and suddenly you're hitting with him. The first (rally) we hit the ball 50 times over the net. He doesn't miss and I tried my best not to miss. But once you get through thinking who he is, it becomes just like any other practice.

NO. 1 PLAYER

Kylar, the No. 1 player in the province who won his second Manitoba Open singles title last summer, played in the pre-qualifying event at Indian Wells, losing in the third round.

Some of the other players he hit with include Russia's Dmitry Tursunov and Svetlana Kuznetsova and Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova.

He has come a long way since he was a wide-eyed kid wandering around the grounds thanks to his dad, longtime Winnipeg tennis pro George Kylar, who has strung racquets for the players at Indian Wells for many years.

(The elder Kyler strung about 300 racquets during the week.)

It's hard to put a price on what his experience at Indian Wells will be worth or how it will impact Kylar's game but he's hoping it will show up on the courts this summer.

"Some of the coaches gave me a few pointers of what I could work on. When you play three or four hours a day, it helps regardless of who you're playing with, then you throw in that these are the best players in the world," he said.

Kylar may be in further demand on the practice court as Djokovic wasn't his only partner who experienced great success last week. He hit regularly with the big surprise in the women's draw, Italy's Camila Giorgi, who lost in the fourth round after beating Maria Sharapova.

"I wouldn't say no if somebody asked me. I don't know if I would fly somewhere just to be a hitting partner. Maybe," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2014 D2

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