It has been 11 months since Nick Kyrgios played on the ATP Tour, having last competed in Acapulco in February 2020. He withdrew from all events for the remainder of 2020, following the Tour’s suspension due to the coronavirus. In this time he has slipped to number 46 in the world rankings. With two fellow Aussies, Alex de Minaur and John Millman, leapfrogging him in the rankings, Kyrgios has consequently failed to qualify for the main Australian Open build-up event, the ATP Cup. Instead, he will play in the inaugural Murray River Open, an ATP 250 warm-up event in Melbourne.
There is no denying that Nick Kyrgios is absolutely blockbuster. Regardless of whether you support him, he attracts audiences second only to the Big 3. A combination of his lights out approach on the court, as well as his often provocative and rogue antics off it, have left a drama-shaped hole in men’s tennis. His reasons for not playing even after the resumption of the Tour in August are simple. He openly expressed his belief that sport should not be resumed until the pandemic is under control. He has even called tournament organizers, as well as Sascha Zverev, selfish. Interestingly, he has also stated that he felt the timing suited his personal life. Having struggled with his mental health from the draining effect of competitive tennis, he was already considering taking time off.
What has he been up to?
So what has he been up to over the last year? Well, alongside gaming with some of his fellow Aussie streamers and continuing to pick twitter fights with the likes of Karen Khachanov, Borna Coric and Mats Wilander, he says he has been practicing during his time away and is now ‘craving’ a return. Perhaps sometimes under-reported, his charitable nature has once again been demonstrated. He offered to drop food to those going hungry as a result of the pandemic. Other than that, it seems he has enjoyed a more moderate-paced life over the last year, focusing on his happiness.
In the run-up to his injury-hit exit against Ugo Humbert in Acapulco 2020, Kyrgios’ form was fairly solid. He reached the 4th round of the Australian Open, where he lost to Nadal in 4 sets, having come out on the wrong side of two tiebreaks. He also managed to beat Khachanov along the way as well as Tsitsipas in the ATP Cup the week before. It is hard to predict what will come this year, given his long absence and a tendency to jump between the astounding and the mediocre almost at will. Whilst he continues to have no fixed tennis coach, seeing a counsellor early last year might have helped. It could provide the support he needs to find out what he wants from his career and life more generally.
Could 2021 be the year?
It seems bizarre that he is still only 25, given that he has been around for what feels like an age. Nonetheless, it has been half a decade since Nick Kyrgios reached the quarter-final of a grand slam. Although he won two 500 level titles in 2019, it feels it is time he delivered on a bigger stage. The key is his desire to regularly compete at the same level he seems to do only against the very best. Despite suggesting that he is not results-driven, his passion for the big stage is undeniable. We often only see his best tennis when playing with big audiences on centre court, as opposed to building his way into a tournament starting from round one.
We seem to say it every year; can Kyrgios can start this year with a positive mindset and sustain a level we know he is capable of? The time away from the limelight might just make 2021 the year for him to finally enjoy his tennis again. No doubt the media frenzy will begin to emerge if he picks up early season wins. However, right now it feels as though going somewhat under the radar is exactly what he wants. Let’s hope that Kyrgios can begin enjoying his tennis again, and who knows where that will take him. I have a feeling that the results and performance levels might just reflect it. Whether he will become a consistent performer at the game’s pinnacle depends what he wants from his career more than anything else. However, hopefully he can start stringing together some form to take him beyond being an entertainer.