Nick Kyrgios is box office. Spectators that see the Australian hot shot may well have hit the jackpot. They could see an irresistibly unorthodox display of power tennis. Equally, however, they may have to bear witness to an irresistibly petty display of teenage style petulance. At his best, Kyrgios’ genial relationship with fans will make an appearance too, as it did in Cincinnati during his win over Ivo Karlovic. More than once, after winning points, he broke out into dance and high fived members of the crowd.
Despite this, some in the tennis world are losing patience with him. Greg Rusedski and John McEnroe are among those who have recently questioned his commitment to the game. Indeed, they called on him to quit if he cannot improve his attitude. Cited are his frequent retirements due to questionable injuries, his ‘tanking’ episodes for which he was banned in Shanghai last year, and his frequent and unacceptable outbursts towards umpires, himself and even other players. Just ask Stan Wawrinka.
A unique proposition
Kyrgios, however, represents something in modern sport. Something that endears him to many fans. He represents the shortcomings of humanity. Too often, it seems, professional sports people are nigh on robotic with a level of emotional and motivational control that is almost disconcerting. Whilst it is admirable to be so disciplined and dedicated it is refreshing to see someone like Kyrgios who struggles with the pressure and stage. He has been criticised for his attitude and ostensibly not wanting to be on court.
But his streaky mood and apparent lack of motivation are what makes him so entirely human. Kyrgios has occasionally claimed to not love the sport he happens to be good at. It is hard to begrudge him for not always being overjoyed when he is playing. His complete inability to mask negative emotions can be thought of as infantile and petulant but it could also be viewed as transparent and candid. The tennis community and media should be making an effort to see it as the latter. If they do not, then the spirit of the young Australian may be completely crushed. For all that Kyrgios is criticised, he is still a long way from the kind of meltdown that Tomic is undergoing. The constant criticism by an unforgiving media could be the final straw for Kyrgios, compounding his difficulties. And love him or hate him, the game would miss him.
A bright future?
Attitude problems aside, Kyrgios’ tennis exploits have been astounding. As a 19-year-old in 2014, he beat Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon and reached the quarterfinals. He is one of only two players, his Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt being the other, to have beaten Nadal, Federer and Djokovic at the first time of asking. This is an objectively astonishing achievement. His form in the past year has been fairly impressive. He overcame an admittedly lessened Novak Djokovic twice in the space of a month in the spring. Last month, he beat Nadal in straight sets and reached the final in Cincinnati. His tennis during these periods has been nothing short of astonishing.
His laser like serve, thunderous forehand and penchant for delicate net play and tweeners make him a joy to watch at his best. This is someone who, if he keeps his mind in check, could dominate the game. And there are good signs to that effect. And in spite of his sometimes abrasive on-court personality, he remains a generally well-liked character in the locker room. He maintains a strong friendship with Andy Murray, Gael Monfils, Jack Sock and countrymen Lleyton Hewitt, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Jordan Thompson. He performs brilliantly in a team as evidenced by his Davis Cup exploits and recent performance in the inaugural Laver Cup. There, he once again pushed Roger Federer to the brink, gaining a match point that would have sent the competition to a deciding match. Upon losing, he cried, devastated at not having been able to keep the team in it.
Even those in the media, outside of the pressurised arena of post-match interviews, speak highly of him. By most accounts, he is a well-meaning, kind and funny young man. But one who struggles to motivate himself. With his talent, the tennis community should do all it can to uplift Nick Kyrgios, not pull him down. Because who knows what he could do given the chance.
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