Nick Kyrgios is a polarizing figure to be sure
An overused media scapegoat finds himself in the limelight again. For the “wrong” reasons. Why is he in the spotlight? Because of his poor attitude on the court during his match against Rafael Nadal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as critical of the young Aussie as anyone else, but there’s more to Kyrgios than “He’s a spoilt brat”.
We know a lot of things about Kyrgios. Like the fact that he apparently doesn’t like the sport. He’s lamented on the fact that one of the few reasons he plays is because it pays his bills. He’s tanked matches before and paid heavy fines for it. He has sledded Stan Wawrinka and again paid heavy fines for it. But this was over two years ago, and from the passion (albeit expressed in a poor manner) makes me think otherwise. His loss in the Laver Cup comes to mind immediately. Legs giving away, disheveled face after breaking down. This is not the Nick Kyrgios everyone was so critical about. But why the Laver Cup of all tournaments to feel so dejected about?
It evokes team spirit. In his eyes, Nick let his teammates down. He’s very openly stated that he wished he could play Basketball instead. This is the closest he can get to enjoying and experiencing team spirit. Tennis is a lonely sport. It’s you and your head, and his frustrations about it aren’t only his. It’s shared by several others.
We also know that he’s probably one of the most talented young players out there. He has the game and capacity to beat the best players there are. 2017 was a testament to how true it was with two wins over Djokovic and one over Nadal (and an extremely tight match with Roger). His serve is excellent, and his powerful groundstrokes trouble even Nadal. His 6-2 6-1 loss might seem straightforward on paper, but almost every game went to 30-30 or deuce. Kyrgios fired several dazzling winners and many powerful groundstrokes for which Nadal had little resistance to offer. His problem area is his mental game. He completely breaks apart sometimes or plays the most clutch tennis there can be.
The smallest things affect him. Just a yesterday in his final against Nadal, he had a break point in the first game. A ball that was in was called out. He challenged the call and Hawkeye showed that the ball was in. But the point had to be replayed, and this destroyed him completely. Yelling at the linesman constantly, arguing with the Umpire (and getting a point penalty for it) and extremely negative body language throughout the match. This isn’t new. Kyrgios throws hissy fits and immature tantrums more often than Karlovic serves an ace in a set. He’s so volatile and unpredictable that he could win the 2018 Australian Open or withdraw from the first half of the 2018 season because he doesn’t feel like it.
And that’s what it all boils down to. How he feels. If he’s motivated enough, he can win the biggest of matches. I not, he crashes out early. The Grand Slams highlight this. He didn’t get past the second round of a slam. But he reached two finals, his first masters final too. Kyrgios can complain as much as he pleases, but he needs to find the focus and motivation to win his matches against players he deems to be “easy”. Consistency is key in tennis.
His outbursts on the court and outside of it have seen him being painted as a villain of sorts by the media, especially the Australian media. But it’s why I relate to Kyrgios the most out of all players on tour. He knows he doesn’t have the mental strength like a Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic. He’s unabashedly raw and puts it all out there, whether on the court or in his post-match interviews. It’s never a sloppy PR machine answering all those questions, his answers are always from the heart. People also seem to forget that Kyrgios is currently facing a semi-serious hip injury. He’s seemingly struggled since Wimbledon and while he seems to be fine now, it may just be troubling him and holding him back from being 100%. He also had a shoulder issue in the US Open (Which was apparently temporary and minor).
Apart from all of this, the mental aspect of his game is seriously compromised due to personal issues too. He recently lost his Grandfather who he was very close to. Two years previously he also lost his Grandmother. All of this has taken a toll on him (And understandably so) and is a contributing factor for his unpredictable performance.
All of this brings me to something important. After his loss in Beijing, Kyrgios posted an article on the Players’ voice titled “I’ve found my purpose”. He speaks about the facility he’s building for underprivileged children to get the same opportunities he has, and how dedicating himself to helping others has changed him. And it’s great. It truly is. One could argue that basing your purpose of playing the sport on the expectation of others isn’t a very good thing, but if it’s a good motivator and brings the best out of him, why should I complain. After all, I want to see this young man flourish and achieve what I and several others know he can. A Grand Slam victory and dare I say it, a number one ranking.