Nick Kyrgios is coming off his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final, which he lost to Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov 6-3 7-5. He also enjoyed success in Montreal the week before, winning two matches before falling to eventual champion Alexander Zverev.
The 22-year-old Australian, now ranked 18th in the world, has shown glimpses of being a potential Grand Slam champion over the past few years. Indeed, he has won against Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. He even defeated the Serb in consecutive tournaments earlier this year. But, amongst his highs, he has also endured the lowest of lows. He has been booed off the court, scrutinized in the media and labelled as a disgrace to Australia on a number of occasions.
But coming off arguably a career best week, is Kyrgios ready to fulfil his potential? And if so, what does this mean for his hopes in New York?
Is his best chance to strike in New York?
If ever there was a time where an underdog could cause a stir at a Grand Slam, it is now. Federer and Nadal have both seemingly cooled off slightly from their red-hot starts to the year, despite remaining the odds-on favourites. Below them, there has been carnage. Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, and Kei Nishikori will all miss the US Open. Andy Murray and Marin Cilic haven’t played since Wimbledon and are serious doubts for New York.
This should provide Kyrgios and his fans with plenty of optimism heading to New York. But, his recent Grand Slam form all but squashes that optimism. The lively Australian has disappointed at the previous four Majors. His results consist of a retirement in the first round at Wimbledon and losses to the much-lower ranked Kevin Anderson and Andreas Seppi in Paris and Melbourne respectively in 2017. Last year at Flushing Meadows he retired against Illya Marchenko and was booed off Arthur Ashe.
There are many theories and suggestions as to why he has struggled to stay healthy and play his best tennis at the most important tournaments. But the reason is that Grand Slam tennis exposes Kyrgios’ biggest weakness: mental strength. Not just in terms of competing hard throughout matches, but the strength to prepare physically and mentally. He has struggled to cope with media requirements, to deal with pressure and expectation and to understand the difficulty that comes with winning a Grand Slam.
This weakness and lack of understanding comes through in his demeanour on the court, his honest admissions in interviews and his growing list of mid-match retirements. One quote sums a lot of his weaknesses up. Prior to the US Open last year, Kyrgios held a Twitter Question and Answer session. One question which was asked was along the lines of ‘what will you do if you win the US Open?’ His response was ‘If I win Flushing Meadows, you’ll never see me again.’ This statement may have been intended as a joke – only Kyrgios knows – but that is not the important thing. Just days later he revealed to the press that he wasn’t fully fit heading to New York, carrying an injury.
Kyrgios, whether consciously or not, does not understand the dedication and commitment required to win a Grand Slam. He has not yet shown the willingness to sacrifice everything to become a great of the game. Winning seven best of five matches over the course of two weeks is brutal. Without months and months of commitment beforehand, it is also impossible. This is why, despite his form, despite the weaker field, despite his love for a big stage, Kyrgios will not win the US Open in 2017.
On top of that, Kyrgios has played his best tennis this year, only to then play his worst just weeks later. His wins over Djokovic, his instant-classic defeat of Federer and his two huge Davis Cup singles wins were followed up by a sub-par clay and grass court season. We simply do not know what to expect next from the talented Australian. Until he can buck the trend of his recent Grand Slam losses, anything beyond a fourth round appearance at Flushing Meadows is a terrific result.
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