To say Nick Kyrgios cuts a controversial figure in the world of tennis is like saying the grass at Wimbledon is green. The 21-year-old Australian has been involved in a number of contentious incidents despite his career being in its infancy. Is he a waste of space or is he being treated harshly by fans and the media?
Some of Kyrgios’ actions have been inexcusable, for example when he made slurs about Stan Wawrinka’s girlfriend during a match for which he was heavily fined and received a 28-day suspension. He also hasn’t been the most tactful on social media, continuously getting himself in all sorts of bother.
Yes he has a bad boy image and repeatedly lets us know that he “doesn’t love the game,” but he’s only 21. Of course his comments and behaviour make him an easy target, but it’s important to stress that people in all walks of life mature at vastly different rates.
Moreover, he may claim not to love the game, but that doesn’t automatically mean he doesn’t care about his matches. Andy Murray and Pat Cash have both maintained that Kyrgios definitely cares and imply that his post-match remarks should be treated more like a defence mechanism.
His manner on the court and in press conferences may be less than conventional, but not everyone deals with a loss or their struggles on the court in the same way. We’ve been through this before with Marat Safin, he had constant on-court tantrums, arguments with umpires, smashed rackets, and memorable press conferences. He also won two Grand Slam titles.
Take the second set Kyrgios played against Murray at Wimbledon this year. Following a close first set of quality tennis, the Australian looked down in the dumps and was blown away in the second by the world number two. As soon as the match was over there were already claims that he’d downed tools, yet the exact same thing also happened to Jo-Wilfred Tsonga during his quarter-final encounter with Murray.
Did anyone question Tsonga’s effort? No, because his natural demeanour when losing doesn’t appear as negative on the surface as Kyrgios’.
It seems everyone blames Kyrgios’ individual failings when he comes unstuck, but in reality on this occasion he came up against a top player who went on to win the whole tournament. Although once again his post-match comments, stating that he played computers games in preparation for the match, didn’t help his cause.
In essence, despite what his critics say, he’s trying his best on the court but he evidently needs to work on all facets of his game off the court – including how to handle the media in press conferences.
So how does Kyrgios fare when compared to greats of the game when they were his age? Rodger Federer did win Wimbledon a month before his 22nd birthday, but prior to that had only reached the fourth round of any Grand Slam. Moreover, the Swiss superstar wasn’t always the suave and composed player who glides around the court that he currently is. In his earlier years Federer had an explosive temperament and was somewhat of a hot head.
Similarly, not every player is going to replicate Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard was winning Grand Slams in his teens and really is an exception to the rule. Could Kyrgios have been a mercurial player in his teens had he applied himself the same way Rafa did? Perhaps, but once again it all comes down to the individual and how they mature.
Compared to others his age on the ATP Tour, Kyrgios’ shortcomings are more intensely scrutinised. There’s obvious reasons why other young guns like Alexander Zverev (19), Dominc Thiem (22) and Lucas Pouille (22) are under less of a microscope. They’re visibly doing everything within their power to continuously improve, but it seems like it’s often forgotten that Kyrgios is still a young up-and-coming talent too.
Put simply, for many the frustration comes from knowing Kyrgios could being doing more off the court to better his game. He has the weapons to be a top five player, but currently has no coach and consequently no game plan. The question is what coach would want to volunteer and take the bull by the horns? The Australian has himself admitted that he’s not sure what coach, if any, would want to work with him.
It’s feasible that when he finds that person he’ll get the guidance he requires to fulfil his potential and will be able to make headlines for the right reasons.
There’s absolutely no doubt that Kyrgios has been out of line several times in his career, but growing up in public eye with huge expectations is never easy and takes some getting used to. Just like with any sport public opinion can change and time is the greatest healer – just ask Andy Murray who struggled for years with the British press.
It’s important to remember that Kyrgios has already won titles on multiple surfaces, broken the world’s top 20 and beaten greats of the game like Nadal and Federer. Moreover, players are now producing their best tennis at an older age, so there’s still plenty of time for the controversial Australian to silence his critics and win Grand Slam titles.