THE GROWTH OF NICK KYRGIOS

Nick Kyrgios, the much-maligned 27-year-old from Canberra who grew up on admittedly “shocking” courts in his hometown, could be a Wimbledon champion by Monday morning AEST.   The thought of it seems surreal.  Most of us could only imagine how he feels.

 

Kyrgios would join Australian greats such as Pat Cash, Lleyton Hewitt, John Newcombe, Rod Laver, Ash Barty, Margaret Court, and Evonne Goolagong Cawley on the Wimbledon honour roll should he defeat Novak Djokovic in the men’s final on Sunday night. 

 

The match-up itself is tantalizing.  Kyrgios holds a 2-0 head-to-head record against Djokovic and, until recently, “no love was lost” between the pair.  Kyrgios believed Djokovic was arrogant.  Djokovic cared not for Kyrgios’ antics.  Nowadays, a bromance has bloomed. 

 

The Australian has never lost a set to Djokovic.  But this one is different.  Djokovic has won 47 of his last 49 matches at Wimbledon winning five of the last seven championships.  One of those two losses was largely due to a persistent elbow injury that kept him out of the game for six months.  Beating the Serbian on grass in recent times is like trying to beat Nadal at Roland Garros.  Seldom do any survive to tell the tale.   

 

You can only guess, but you’d suspect Kyrgios wouldn’t have it any other way.  He craves the big time.  Love him or loathe him, he is box office entertainment.  The world will be glued to the screen as the pair enter centre court. 

 

Unquestionably, Kyrgios is a divisive character. He’s vocal, loud, exciting, respectful, disrespectful, and frustrating. He’s like a magnet and his tennis provides more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie whodunit.

 

Those that support Kyrgios enjoy his powerful game and the unknown of his performances.  Many of those that disfavour him take great pleasure in expressing as much.  Few sit in the middle.     

 

Until this year, Kyrgios has universally been considered a generational talent who refuses to maximise his.  This causes unrest for the masses – including our past champions.  As Kyrgios stated in his pre-final press conference, of all the champions in Australian tennis, he feels only Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt has remained in his corner.

 

“As for the greats of Australian tennis they haven’t always been the nicest to me.  They haven’t always been supportive. They haven’t been supportive these last two weeks”.

 

“The kind of only great that has been supportive of me the whole time is Lleyton Hewitt”.

 

“He knows that I kind of do my own thing… he knows to keep his distance and let me do me” Kyrgios said. 

 

So how did the kid from Canberra find himself here?

 

Aged 15, Kyrgios won his first ITF junior title in Fiji in June 2010.  By early 2013 he was the number one junior in the world.  Weeks later he won the boys' title at the Australian Open defeating close friend Thanasi Kokkinakis in straight sets.

 

Even then it was clear the Kyrgios’ serve was world-class.

 

Fast forward eighteen months and the then pride of Australian tennis found himself in the main draw of the Wimbledon championships courtesy of a wildcard from the All England Club. 

 

After coming from two sets down to defeat Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the second round, Kyrgios fought his way into a fourth-round encounter against world number 1 Rafael Nadal.

 

Rumour has it even Kyrgios’ mother tipped Nadal to win their first encounter on Wimbledon’s centre court. 

 

It was at this moment that the world learned of Kyrgios’ love of the big stage. The Canberran defeated Nadal in four exhilarating sets 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-3.

 

In doing so Kyrgios became the first player ranked outside the top 100 to defeat a world number 1 at a grand slam in twenty-odd years.

 

After a third-round appearance at the US Open, Kyrgios finished his first year on the ATP tour as the second-ranked Australian behind Lleyton Hewitt at 52 in the world.

 

An Australian Open quarter-final appearance followed and by the end of 2016, Kyrgios was ranked 13 in the world after winning titles in Marseille, Atlanta, and Tokyo.  He became the youngest member of the world’s top 20 since Marin Cilic seven years prior. 

 

The Canberran is even part of a small group of players to defeat Roger Federer (Madrid, 2015), Rafael Nadal (Wimbledon, 2014), and Novak Djokovic (Acapulco, 2017) on their first attempt.

 

Since then, however, it’s been a rocky road for the Australian.  He’s promised so much but only delivered when it suited him.  He’s been defaulted for throwing a chair on court, fined for unsportsmanlike conduct on umpteen occasions, and consistently had his behaviour questioned as he watched his ranking drop outside the top 100. 

 

Amongst his professional challenges, Kyrgios recently revealed he privately battled depression, alcohol and drug abuse, suicidal thoughts, and self-harming behaviours as he quickly became the man Australia loved to hate. 

 

While his behaviour on court is something of an acquired taste, particularly for those who grew up watching the “gentleman’s game” with fewer personalities on the court, Kyrgios has matured before our eyes.

 

Sure, he can carry on like a pork chop, but that’s half the fun.

 

When bushfires ravaged Australia in 2020, Kyrgios was the catalyst behind Tennis Australia’s ‘Rally for Relief’ that included Federer, Osaka, Wozniacki, Williams, and Nadal amongst others.

 

When the pandemic was in full swing, it was Kyrgios who rose as the voice of reason and demanded his peers (including Djokovic) take the pandemic seriously. 

 

And when Djokovic was going through what must’ve been living hell in January, it was (only) Kyrgios that called for the wider public to see the humanity (or lack thereof) in the entire ordeal.

 

Professionally, Kyrgios also appears to have allowed himself to dream.  Having previously revealed that his ideal grand slam included a fourth-round appearance and a night out with his mates, Kyrgios has changed his tune. 

 

This fortnight Kyrgios has revealed he was gunning for the title from day dot which is a significant shift in his mentality. 

 

Perhaps he’s overcome a fear of failure and allowed himself to dream.  Perhaps his sporting morality has dawned on him.  Or maybe he’s just more comfortable in his own skin. 

 

Regardless, it’s been a remarkable turnaround for the Aussie. His 2021 season is already something to behold with a grand slam doubles title, a series of top-10 wins, three tour-level semi-finals, and this run to the Wimbledon final all within a six-month period that included skipping an entire clay-court season. 

 

Whether he can take the final step and etch his name in sporting history remains to be seen. But as fans, we’re finally seeing the Kyrgios we thought we saw nearly a decade ago.

 

He’s not perfect, and he soon will have his day in court, but when it comes to watching Nick Kyrgios, it’s a lot more fun to come along for the ride.