August 31, 2018
It could only happen to Nick Kyrgios. But this time not even Roger Federer is very happy about the way events unfolded.
So what did Kyrgios do this time?
Well this time it wasn’t so much what Krygios did – we have seen it so many times before.
It was the chain reaction Kyrgios caused.
The controversial Australian was showing such little interest in his match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert that the umpire felt he had to do something.
At a set and 0-3 down, Kyrgios had just swiped the ball uncaringly into the net once too often.
It looked like he was tanking. The crowd booed as well they might after feeling cheated of a genuine contest.
So instead of just warning Kyrgios about his lamentable conduct, umpire Mohamed Lahyani took the extraordinary step of trying to improve it with the nice-guy approach.
He stepped down off his chair at the change of ends, and could clearly be heard several times saying ‘I want to help you.’
And with those words, however well-meaning his motives, the umpire abandoned his neutrality.
‘I don’t think he had to go down and take the position of coach,’ complained Herbert later, with every justification.
From that moment, for the next five minutes or so, Lahyani is understood to have told Kyrgios everything a petulant talent might want to hear.
‘This isn’t you, I mean you’ re great for tennis, I’ve seen your matches and I like you.
‘But you also have responsibilities. Look at the impression you are giving here. You have so much to offer, you are such a good player.
‘I don’t want to have to take any action but you need to show some interest in the match.
‘Like I say, I’m trying to help you. Please, let’s see it, OK? Show us the real Nick. Thank you.’
If not those precise words, very close, from what we can piece together from all sides.
Some players need tough love and an occasional telling off from their coach. Others need a loving arm around their shoulder and a pep talk about how great they could be.
Unable to be coached
This definitely fell into the latter category. One problem. Lahyani isn’t Nick’s coach. No one is. And that’s because Kyrgios is practically uncoachable.
Unfortunately the umpire made such a good job of acting like a coach that it worked.
Kyrgios never looked back and booked a mouthwatering showdown with Roger Federer in round three.
Then Kyrgios had the nerve to insist that it was ‘ridiculous’ to suggest that Lahyani had been coaching him. And by that he meant there had been no technical pointers.
But of course the umpire’s intervention had changed his mindset, and the psychological aspect is as much a coach’s remit as the technical.
So Kyrgios had indeed benefited from what a coach might have done elsewhere.
Amazingly, the United States Tennis Association has suggested that the umpire needed to check all was well with Kyrgios for medical reasons, while at the same time warning him what might happen if he continued to show no interest.
But the umpire isn’t supposed to get down off his chair for so long.
As Federer pointed out later, ‘It isn’t the umpire’s role to do that, although I understand what he was trying go do.
‘It was too long, it was a conversation. And conversations can change a player’s mindset.’
It did, because Kyrgios went on to win 4-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 6-0.
And that means Federer has a very tough and unpredictable opponent, instead of someone he might have been able to subdue in a more straightforward manner.
Not that Federer’s own 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 victory was quite as straightforward as it might have seemed.
Roger was just two points from losing the first set against Benoit Paire, after being stunned by a break-back.
He made too many unforced errors for the immaculate player he normally is, and will need to raise his level to progress against Kyrgios.
That’s if the best Nick Kyrgios turns up, of course.
‘It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m not going to be the crowd’s favourite, that’s for sure,’ Nick predicted with a smile.
As long as Kygios isn’t the umpire’s favourite either…