Aside from Roger and Rafa, is Nick Kyrgios the most compelling man in the sport? Andy Roddick noted, “Every time I have a microphone in front of me, I’m asked about Kyrgios.” When Nick’s engaged, he’s a delight. Spontaneous and connected, he exudes charisma. There isn’t a more charming fellow in the game. His sheer flash brilliance and the quirkiness of his inventive game create must-watch play. Think blazing winners, tweeners, faux overheads, head feints, no-look winners and underarm serves. Plus, he beams and gives high fives to fans who offer him courtside tips. What fun.
Then he gets triggered. A switch goes off. Sometimes it’s an umpire, sometimes it’s a fan or two. We hear Nick say, “Why should I try? These people don’t deserve it.” A dark prince emerges. Somehow the nice Nick we love morphs into a snarling, spitting, racket-throwing, ball-bashing, chair-hurling, f-bomb tossing, tank machine you don’t want to have tea with.
Rafa Nadal, a consummate professional who tries to squeeze all he can from his talent, bristled. He noted Kyrgios’ “enormous talent” and said he “could win Slams…But there is a reason why he is where he is [then No. 72]…He lacks respect for the public, his rivals and himself.” Jim Courier mused, “I can’t think of anyone who has self-sabotaged more.” To Brett Haber it’s primarily a defense mechanism: “If he has an excuse, if he’s not playing his hardest, and he represents that he doesn’t care, he can live with losing, if he’s not trying his hardest. But if he was trying his absolute best and losing it would be tougher for him to swallow.”
In DC, Nick was in a deep funk, but thanks to a silly Tsitsipas shoe snafu, Nick got to clown around. His mood shifted. He promptly got back in gear and beat the great Greek and went on to win the title. And once again all was good and grand in the curious world of Kyrgios, that is until he melted down in Cincinnati.
There in the second round he barked at veteran ump Fergus Murphy. He yelled that the Irishman was “the f–king worst ref ever.” He smashed two rackets, stormed off court, spat and was fined a whopping $113,000 for eight different violations. Chris Hodgkinson of Australia’s News 9 sighed: “The world wonders why he even bothers.”
In the meantime, observers asked, is Kyrgios (even more than Ilie Nastase) the most volatile player in tennis history? And will this oh-so-talented coach-less star ever get the meaningful help he needs?