What does Nick Kyrgios want from tennis? What do we want from Nick Kyrgios, the player and the man? Somewhere at the intersection of the answers to those two questions lies quality tennis gold.
Just a few days ago, Kyrgios was fined a hefty €15,000 for a lewd gesture with his water bottle, during the change of ends in his semi-final match against Marin Cilic at Queen's Club. The disproportionate five-figure reaction has more to do with Kyrgios's bad boy capital than the gesture itself, considering the inconsistency in official stances to other players' graver offences on court over the years.
In men's tennis, among the players still battling for their first Grand Slam, the life and times of Nick Kyrgios is probably the most curious book, TV series, Netflix original film. It is the binge-worthy production that some people love watching, some are into because they suffer from FOMO and others love to hate-watch. It has everything — great tennis, addictive drama, tanking, fines, love stories, teenage break up angst live on Instagram, tweets calling out national heroes for what they are at times - racists, homophobes etc.
Experts love to describe Kyrgios with caveats. He can do great things "if he keeps his head" or "if he figures stuff out mentally". Some of his off-court behaviour will tell you that his head is perfectly good as it exists now.
It was Wimbledon where the Australian announced himself in 2014 by defeating the then (& now) World No 1 Rafael Nadal to make the quarter-finals and it was the Centre Court where that tennis gold could come to fruition. The win wasn't just any upstart toppling a legendary favourite. It was more about the emphatic fashion in which Kyrgios bared himself to the world on tennis' most famous court. In that very first big match of his career, Kyrgios hit a last-minute between-the-legs shot from the baseline for a short winner that the court-covering Nadal could only watch in disbelief. Over the last four years, we've learned that that shot was no fluke and the essence of that shot is the very essence of Kyrgios. He hits tweeners and between-the-legs shots for fun. He dares to go for them at the most inopportune moments and pulls them off. His between-the-legs lob winners are almost trademark. He loves the big courts and playing with the best players. He has beaten every member of the Big 4. All of them but Murray tasted defeat in their first match against Kyrgios.
Nick Kyrgios loves to entertain and — this isn't said enough — be entertained. That is why big crowds and big players draw the very best from him. He promises you entertainment on the condition that you entertain him; with your cheers for the more popular and decorated player, with your respect for tradition and history of the game, with your disrespect and disregard for him as a player and human being. He is known to mentally sign out of matches and later even admit to that effect. If he is tired, weary or simply bored, he will let you know.
In the past two weeks, he played an entertaining semi-final against Roger Federer in Stuttgart and a messy opening-round match at Queens against Andy Murray. They posed different challenges to him on the same surface — Federer with his serves and quick game to challenge Kyrgios's own, and Murray with his most important match, his return to competitive tennis after almost a year, at the heart of London playing someone he admires in front of a crowd that wants its very British hero to make a winning start.
Kyrgios seemed to be hampered by a hip issue (what Murray has been nursing for over a year) and went for big second serves to shorten the point, shorten the game and shorten time spent on court. He came through even if everyone felt he was disinterested, to mark his first win against Andy Murray. In his match against another English player, Kyle Edmund, Kyrgios really couldn't be bothered. Maybe he felt the stakes weren't high enough and started treating it like an exhibition. He mimicked Federer's service motion for a point. He also mimicked what looked like Gael Monfils' serve. Tracy Austin on Tennis Channel tried to explain it by saying how the entertainment value — the mimics and the tweener lobs — is higher up for Kyrgios and only then comes winning.
Austin also mentioned that "his talent levels are off the charts". Kyrgios's tennis is built on his big serve, unorthodox but effective shots on both wings with an attacking mindset, focused on — to put it mildly — flair. His game takes to a grass court like a tweener lob takes to a YouTube reel or GIF. Grass court tennis is all about a moment here or there when a player finds inspiration, a player loses concentration, or a player gives in to the nerves. Seizing the moment must come easy to Kyrgios because the moment is all he has and all that he thrives in.
The atmosphere of a Wimbledon Centre Court, therefore, must feel like home to him and if he manages to seize enough number of moments, The Championships will be his to take. A couple of weeks from now, he might well find himself on Centre Court facing a big name in the final. He'll be up a break or facing a break point and as the allegedly well-behaved Wimbledon crowd holds its collective breath, Kyrgios will serve a fault. There might be faint noises of gasps, applause or cheers. That is the moment when other players feel frustrated, peeved or annoyed. Nick Kyrgios, on the other hand, will crack a smile at the atmosphere he loves. Four years after that 2014 Centre Court victory, Nick Kyrgios is still a question mark. But in men's tennis, his is the question mark that can make the prissy Wimbledon look like The Boodles.
Updated Date: Jun 26, 2018 17:23:40 IST