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The Summer of Nick Kyrgios

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The summer, North American portion of the ATP tour really started with the playing of the Rogers Cup in Canada. Although a few smaller tournaments are played prior to this Masters 1000, the Rogers cup brings out of their short Post Wimbledon sabbatical the top names. Montreal saw the return of Novak Djokovic to action, and the return of Rafa Nadal to hard courts. At Cincinnati, Roger Federer joined the tour once more and it all ended, in splendorous fashion, with Djokovic winning the U.S. Open. Many a player must have considered the hard court season a success.
But, whether you like it or not, the summer belonged to Nick Kyrgios.
Now, one cannot compare Mr. Kyrgios to the previous Future Hall of Famers mentioned, but in the terms of showmanship and spectacle, the young Aussie is beginning to mark a trail that has not been seen in a long time (more on that below). To begin with, Kyrgios showed up in Montreal with a new hairdo, a Mohawk with two stripes of color died on each side. The effect resembled a popular Italian dessert called CASSATTA, a three-flavored ice cream, or a Hallucinogenic/Psychedelic version of a skunk. It must have caught him some flack with his mates as the stripes disappeared after Canada, replaced by a spiked line on the right side of his Army Crew Cut Temples, and which led to some guessing of what it was. It was not an EKG of the heart that beats for Nick Kyrgios (if so, it would have been flat-lined) so maybe it was a graph of his behavior on court. One can guess that such a chart would have the vertical scale between “Something that would make McEnroe blush in shame” to “There ought to be a law…” but that starts to make one look picky. Regardless of how “Cool” this new look may be, the reality is that Kyrgios is just one poorly located, cheap tattoo away from becoming a permanent cast in Quentin Tarantino’s movies.
But hair does not make a man, and even less a tennis player. Sure, Kyrgios’ summer started at Wimbledon, where the young man began his post vernal show by getting a fine for an audible obscenity but escaped further financial injury despite blatantly tanking one game against Richard Gasquet (a player he had beaten the year before, coming back from two sets down). But it was Montreal where Kyrgios really turned the charm into overdrive. After a fine victory over Fernando Verdasco, Kyrgios added a new scalp to his collection of big wins, beating Stan Wawrinka in the second round. One has to admit that Stan retired with a lower back injury but the match was close and was being played at a very high level (until the last games in which Wawrinka lost all mobility). That is, if one discards the few words Kyrgios said that turned the entire summer into his particular Jerry Springer Show and brought attention not to his tennis but to Kyrgios’ behavior, which would probably classify him as a large rodent.
Let’s not forget also that there were a few minor things going on in that match prior to the verbal exchange. For starters, one line judge missed three balls that landed on the line and were called out against Kyrgios (Hawkeye reversed the calls). After that Kyrgios requested, in not the most polite way, to have the linesman removed. One felt an urge to talk to the TV and tell the young man that if he were not to hit the ball so hard, it would be easier on the judges, but of course, Kyrgios did have a point; it was only the manner in which he made it. By then Kyrgios was in his full “I don’t give a crap” mode, hitting some shots forcefully, forgetting about others. It culminated in what has to be the lowest incident in the ATP IN YEARS, when he approached Wawrinka and told him that another player had slept with his (Wawrinka’s) girlfriend. Wawrinka seemingly did not notice initially but later commented on the subject, calling for the ATP to fine Kyrgios and deal with the matter. Kyrgios, on his side, stated that Wawrinka was getting “a bit lippy to me” (perhaps telepathically, as those that were watching the match saw none of that) and that what he said was a case of “just in the moment” sort of stuff. Kyrgios maybe does not realize that all of life is “just in the moment” stuff and that many a murderer has said those same words after committing his deed. Add to that some points in which Kyrgios quick-served Wawrinka (the man is the polar opposite of Rafael Nadal when it comes to taking time in between serves) and the whole match was a complete mess, show wise.
The entire fiasco has been covered extensively and there is no need to recap it here. The ATP fined him and suspended him, only to make the quirky move to SUSPEND the SUSPENSION, something that made as much sense as tennis scoring does to a neophyte, but was accepted as reasonable. Kyrgios now has a Damocles sword hanging over his Mohawk for six months and if he misbehaves, the suspension will kick in. In short, off with his head (and his hair).
One must point out that in his short stint at the U.S. Open (he did have the bad luck of drawing Andy Murray, too settle-down and savvy to fall for any of his antics) Kyrgios showed all of this matters little to him. As if he needed any more bad publicity, he started playing the match wearing one of those Milos Raonic’s Arm Sleeves, the ones used to keep your arm warm. Which would mean little had he not worn it on his NON HITTING arm. He showed his full range of spoiled little child mannerisms, slouching on his chair, hitting balls way out of play, attempting the most ridiculous of shots at times. After winning the third set, he changed shirts and took off the arm sleeve (“it was a hot summer night…”) but kept a wrist band, still on his left arm. The fact that his racket had slipped off his grip a while back may have given him an indication of where he should have worn it but we are talking about Nick Kyrgios.
One would assume that this behavior would have earned him plenty a jeer and boos from the savvy New York City crowd, but New Yorkers did the rudest thing to Kyrgios imaginable: they ignored him. The applauded his (and his opponent’s) shots, but there were no other manifestations against his histrionics. It was as if New York was telling him “Punk? You have not seen punk yet, Punk!” and went on drinking their beer and updating their social media.
And the terrible thing is that all this is a shame because, under all the ugly façade, he is an unbelievable talent. Kyrgios is the tennis player that you would love to hate because he can break every rule taught to you about striking a ball and get away with it. Bend your knees when hitting a forehand? Nah, he doesn’t need to do that, only when he really wants to crank it. Follow through on your strokes? Not for him. Kyrgios is the kind of player with such a flexible and fast arm that the racquet disappears when he swings for his serve or many a ground stroke. At the opposite end, in the Verdasco match he hit one perfect lob over his opponent, with no swing or movement whatsoever. Just a quick tap with his hand and over it went.
But, despite all this talent and penchant for controversy, Kyrgios is not a complete original. We have seen this show before. His name was Marcelo Rios, the hyper talented Chilean that reached number One and one Australian open final, and levels of petulance not seen since Connors/McEnroe/Nastase. Kyrgios is some sort of improved version of Rios, both in his talent and his demeanor. They are both naturally talented enough to hit, for example, a clean winner from the back court while falling backwards. Kyrgios certainly has a better serve and is physically more imposing, but the rawness of their games and personalities calls for DNA testing to check how closely related they are. One can only state that Rios, not being a fluent English speaker, kept his mouth shut a bit more (which was a plus, when you give it a thought) but the entire essence is there: the hair (Rios wore a pony tail, which was bold at the time), the foul body language, the histrionics. Heck, they even have the same combination of clothing and racquet sponsor, which, for some people, might be “a sign”.
With only 20 years of age, Kyrgios is destined for glory. Here again he likes to make controversy: it happens when an Aussie claims that his favorite tournament is the U.S. Open (there is another, slightly important tournament played closer to his home, but he is he). The fact is that he has the tools to lift a Grand Slam trophy, and probably will. Arrogance and cockiness are wonderful assets on a court, and he is not short in self belief of any form. He gets, at least, ten more years of top level tennis and injuries will probably not play a part in his story: it is difficult to snap or break something when you are some sort of rubber terminator. Perhaps the only thing that can derail him is his own insanity; Rios never won a Grand Slam and eventually flamed out (plus he did injure himself). And although Kyrgios, like any other bad boy has always done, claims he cares little about what people say about him, it seemed the entire summer charade did get to him: at Montreal he went down meekly to Isner (maybe because he literally has to look up to John) and he lost first round matches at Cincy and New York, to Gasquet (who must be wondering why he runs so frequently into him) and Murray, but in a deflated manner that bespoke that maybe, just maybe, the young man is not as impermeable as we think. Or, even more important, as HE thinks.
So Kyrgios has established himself as a main character in the tennis narrative, and will be part of the conversation for a long time. There is only one thing for certain: he is going to get better. And, sadly and most probably, he is going to get worse. A lot worse.

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  1. Ti-Amie's Avatar
    I'm going to have to find some of those old Rios matches. I don't remember the histrionics but I do remember how much I liked his game.

    We're going to have to agree to disagree about NK for now.
  2. ponchi101's Avatar
    I agree the histrionics are not so similar. But the foul body language is strikingly similar.