Nick Kyrgios’ forehand explodes – and so do his emotions. His hands have a surgical precision. His volleys should be illegal. And that serve – lean in and blast – is a one-of-a-kind wonder. Only Goran Ivanisivec and Roscoe Tanner, way back when, come to mind. His backhand is a laser – look out!
Finally the coach-less individualist is fit. His defense and decision-making have vastly improved. The volatile entertainer is no longer content to put on a must-watch show. His intent is finally strong. The days of self-indulgence, depression and self-hatred may well be behind him.
He wants to win for more than himself. His fans, his family, and his country motivate him. He wants to put his dreaded critics, who said he’d never win, in their place.
Since early June he’s won more ATP matches than anyone. He pushed Djokovic mightily in the Wimbledon final – and he won the Washington, DC final.
Does anyone besides Serena so love the big arena and so crave global adoration? Yet, on tennis’ biggest stage, here in New York, Nick had never gotten beyond the third round. When the US Open draw came out, everyone circled his match-up with the No. 1 player in the world, defending champion Daniil Medvedev – the best tall man in history – who defends like a crazed goalie.
But, as Chris Fowler noted, “Medvedev has a Kyrgios problem.” Coming into tonight’s popcorn match, the Aussie had a 3-1 head-to-head edge over the Russian. Tonight Kyrgios played a brilliant, clutch, first-set tiebreak that included dazzling winners and mind-boggling drop shots, enabling him to win it 13-11.
But then, Kyrgios changed his clothes off court, and changed his mindset on court. On one Sports Center-worthy blunder, he walked around the net into Medvedev’s court and hit an errant backhand from the Russian before it hit the ground. The bonehead move shut the door on a brilliant opportunity.
US Open radio said, “Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Kyrgios comes up with something new.” Medvedev took the second set 6-3.
Then Daniil lost his edge. He later said he was sick, that he always gets sick in the US because “air-conditioning is crazy…but it’s not an excuse.”
More to the point, Kyrgios stepped it up big time. He broke early in the third set and showed off his world-class athleticism, which Medvedev said is at the same elite level as Nadal and Djokovic.
As usual, Nick barked at the ump, threw his racket, and blasted a ball to the backstop. But, by his standards, he was an enchanting choir boy with a forehand.
Nick unleashed a blizzard of winners and broke serve with apparent ease. His dazzling 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win knocked Daniil out of his top spot in the rankings, and put all of tennisdom on alert that he’s a considerable threat to win the title – in both singles and doubles. Kyrgios will next play another Russian, Karen Khachanov, and then could face Casper Ruud or Matteo Berrettini to reach the final.
Kyrgios said that he’d struggled mentally for five or six years and when he’d come to New York he’d get distracted and only play average tennis. But tonight he returned unbelievably, disrupted Daniil’s rhythm, stayed in the moment and played with freedom in the fourth set. He said he was “super proud” – he played off the crowd and didn’t over-celebrate at the end.
I asked Kyrgios, “Has part of your process been liking yourself, appreciating yourself, relishing yourself more? What have you done internally?”
Nick replied, “I felt like when I was really struggling mentally, I was very selfish…I felt bad and didn’t want to play. Then I looked at the people closest to me and how much I was letting them down, and I didn’t want to do that any more…I tried to just look at my career. I was like, I feel like I’ve got so much left to give to the sport. That’s it. I just put my head down, Look, let’s get in better shape let’s see how it goes.
“Obviously winning helps…The motivation has been there. It’s easy to train. It’s easier to wake up…when things are going great.
“I was just really sick of letting people down…I feel like I’m making people proud now. There’s not as much negative things being said about me. I just wanted to turn the narrative around…I was feeling so depressed all the time, feeling so sorry for myself. I just wanted to change that.”
And Nick has done just that. It’s one of the greatest tennis turnarounds in recent memory.
ALL POWER TO THE IMAGINATION: Okay, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer aren’t here, and Serena has left the house. But how cool would it be if 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz and 18-year-old Coco Gauff won the US Open? Last year, 19-year-old Emma Raducanu beat 18-year-old Leyla Fernandez in the final…BTW: Imagine if Nick Kyrgios wins both the singles and the doubles with Thanasi Kokkinakis.
A TALE OF TWO SUNDAYS: This year, for the first time in history, there were matches on middle Sunday at Wimbledon, and they also celebrated the 100th anniversary of Centre Court. Dozens of great champions, except Serena Williams, were on hand. The US Open couldn’t match that, but 18-year-old Coco Gauff saving a second-set point against China’s Shuai Zhang and then going on to win was definitely special. Gauff is the youngest player still in the women’s draw, and Vika Azarenka is the oldest, at 33. Coco will next play France’s Caroline Garcia. Serena-slayer Ajla Tomljanovic again won and next faces Serena’s former doubles partner Ons Jabeur.
When asked about her emotions, Gauff told the Ashe crowd, “It feels insane.” She then said that she’ll spend her off day tomorrow the way she spends most days. “I’ll scroll on TikTok all day,” she admitted.
STARS VANISH IN NYC: Many of the biggest WTA stars are no longer in New York. Think Serena, Venus, Naomi, Emma Raducanu, Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Paula Badosa and Madison Keys. The big names left in the draw are Coco Gauff, Iga Swiatek, Petra Kvitova, Vika Azarenka, Ons Jabeur, Jessica Pegula, Karoline Pliskova and Aryna Sabalenka.
SAD SCENE: As the US Open goes on, players who’ve lost and their solemn partners are seen with glum faces at one hotel after another as they pack up their bulging gear bags, their massive racket cases, their suitcases and backpacks as they leave town. All this reminds us that tennis can be tough. After all, 254 of the 256 singles players who come to town will leave in defeat.
GO FIGURE: No male player outside the Big Three has defended a Slam title since Gustavo Kuerten at the 2001 French Open.