May 3, 2017
Nick Kyrgios prowls like a big cat in a zoo. It’s as though Nick doesn’t really want to be here, in this confined space, with all these strange people looking at him.
Except that something is changing. Whisper it softly, but maybe, just maybe, Kyrgios is starting to think that he does want to be here – a lot of the time, at least.
One of the most charismatic players on the circuit, the Aussie bad-boy looks destined for greatness – if only he can keep his mind on the job. The man is becoming serious box office.
Some people want it too much. Others don’t want it enough. And maybe that’s the problem with Nick. He doesn’t think that winning at tennis is the most important thing in life.
But should that really be a problem? Is Kyrgios, only just 22, coming under fire for being a normal human being like the rest of us? Since when has it been a crime to retain a healthy sense of proportion?
John McEnroe, the seventies super-brat famous for losing all sense of proportion, has been Nick’s chief critic. McEnroe used to want it too much – and screamed like a baby when he didn’t get his way.
People who don’t want it enough drive Mac crazy these days. When Kyrgios blew a two-set lead to crash out of the Aussie Open against Andres Seppi earlier this year, McEnroe was furious at what he saw as a lack of effort from the loser.
‘What I don’t accept, what I can’t understand, is when he stops trying. It’s a black eye for the sport.’
But recently Kyrgios has tried hard enough to beat Novak Djokovic twice and put together enough wins to be considered a future world number one – a giant of the next tennis era.
He seems to be maturing a little, and – dare we say it – enjoying his tennis sometimes.
Remember, this is a guy who was once alarmingly honest about his passion – or lack of it – for tennis: ‘I don’t really like the sport that much. I don’t love it. I was all for basketball when I was fourteen but I chose tennis. I got pushed by my parents and to this day I can honestly say I don’t love tennis.’
He illustrated this in Shanghai a while back, claiming he was ‘bored’ after beating Sam Querrey and then “tanking” against Mischa Zverev.
But recently, in the USA, Kyrgios actually seems to have enjoyed himself on the court against the younger Zverev brother Sascha, laughing with delight as the two youngsters flew through the air in one highly entertaining rally which left Zverev sprawled out on the floor.
Yes, tennis is fun! And it feels great to be so good at something, with an incredible career ahead of you. Perhaps Kyrgios can do this thing after all! He seems to be accepting the idea, at last.
And that’s something of a miracle, considering the flak he has taken. McEnroe was at it again after last year’s US Open. ‘If you don’t want to be a professional tennis player, do something else. He’s getting injured because he doesn’t train enough.’
Or before that, commenting on Nick’s through-the-legs “tweener” shot: ‘Absolute stupidity. A bonehead move.’
It’s called having a good time, Mac. It’s called thrilling the crowds. You used to do it once, in your own way. Why don’t you help Kyrgios do it more consistently?
Yes, if McEnroe really wants Kyrgios to shape up, maybe he should quit the commentators’ booth and coach Kyrgios to greatness, as one rebel to another.
After all, in one of his more generous moments, McEnroe said of Kyrgios: ‘This kid and I are cut from the same cloth. Despite what people may think, I’m pulling for him. You are the future of this sport.’
In the meantime, with McEnroe still not stepping up, others have come to Nick’s aid. His family, for starters. Andy Murray has also been amazing, apparently. Kyrgios acknowledged: ‘He is more like a friend to me, a really caring guy.’
And then, perhaps most important of all right now, there is Nick’s girlfriend, Alja Tomljanovic. She is also a tennis player with problems – although hers have been more physical and she is only just getting over an injury.
Kyrgios says: ‘Seeing her more often is helping my headspace. We could play mixed doubles at Wimbledon.’
And how the Wimbledon crowds would love that. To see two young love-birds actually enjoying themselves on court. Knowing that tennis isn’t everything.
Maybe we should all decide what we want, where Nick Kyrgios is concerned. Do we want to make this young man or break him?
We want to make him, don’t we? So this is the time to let the guy have fun with his tennis, let him continue to improve, and celebrate his talent.
Yes, that talent should be nurtured, but so should Nick’s very normality. He has been brave enough to admit that he thinks there is a life beyond tennis. Good on him! Very healthy! Let’s not punish him for that.
If this caged tiger is showing signs of adapting to life in the tennis zoo, how about we just go with it and support him a little?
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