During Nick Kyrgios’ scintillating fourth-round win against World No. 1 Daniil Medvedev at the US Open last week, an enthralled friend messaged me.
“I love Kyrgios. He’s a shot maker,” he said. True. At times, the Aussie makes 135 mph aces and “Sonic the Hedgehog” fast forehands look as easy as a day tanning at Bondi Beach. No worries mate!
Then the friend cautioned, “Nick is also an egomaniac who squanders opportunities.”
Even truer — and sad. Every time we think the guy’s finally hit his stride as a potential singles champion, he retreats to his self-destructive old habits. He goes on wild tantrums, behaves like a clown and engages in flat game play as though a kid who refuses to get out of bed on a Monday.
That unfortunate shift was very apparent on Tuesday night, when he fell, unexpectedly, to Karen Khachanov during the quarterfinals in five sets. The spitfire acknowledged his loss by aggressively smashing two racquets against the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
He knew he was the favorite to win the whole shebang.
You see, Kyrgios makes amazing shots, but so often also willingly throws his shot at greatness away.
On Tuesday gone was New Nick — the pumped-up guy who won the doubles title this year at the Australian Open and reached his first grand slam final at Wimbledon in July — and back was the petulant child whose temper has always made him play worse, not better.
Kyrgios threw bottles, slapped a TV camera, angrily stomped around, shouted “f–k” at his players’ box and got a well-deserved unsportsmanlike conduct warning.
It’s that electric uncertainty that makes the Aussie the rare 23rd seed who can fill a 26,000 seat stadium. The 27-year-old has raw talent — he’s defeated heavy-hitters Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal all at least once — and he’s the human equivalent of baking soda and vinegar.
Is he entertaining? You bet. And the New York crowd eggs him on in a way that the buttoned-up Brits of Wimbledon do not. But our desire for rabid Nick coupled with his inability to reign it in has stalled what should have been an unstoppable career.
And one that’s not in its early years.
Nearing 30, he’s over the hill of his life as a tennis player. Realistically he won’t be on court past 40 like the doggedly determined Federer and Serena Williams. That’s not his style. He must course-correct immediately.
We all want to see Kyrgios hoist a major trophy after a Sunday final — be it in New York, at home in Australia, or at his favorite tournament Wimbledon (he doesn’t play the French Open because he says it “absolute sucks.” )
But to do it he’ll need to decide if he wants to be a champion, or a lovable circus act.