A rejuvenated Nick Kyrgios is back for a good time

Nick Kyrgios enjoyed a fine run in Indian Wells.
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Nick Kyrgios and Rafael Nadal promised fireworks, and last night at Indian Wells, they delivered them. Following nearly three hours of explosive tennis, it was Nadal who progressed in three sets, his record extending to an astonishing 19-0 for the season. Even the unwanted drama of a heckler from the crowd did not take the shine off this spectacle – though Kyrgios himself may disagree.

After the heckler called out during his service action on set point in the opener, Kyrgios responded with a very audible expletive, costing him the set due to a penalty point. A post-match racket smashing – for which he later apologised – has also earned some unwanted attention. But make no mistake. This has been a great week at Indian Wells for the Australian, playing for the first time since winning the men’s doubles at his home Grand Slam in Melbourne. The biggest story is that he finally enjoys playing tennis again.

Mentally and physically refreshed, Nick Kyrgios feels like a new man in 2022. For years he struggled with his mental health, caused in part by the pressures of his high profile:

“I was trying to be something that I wasn’t for so many years. It put me in a dark place. I was letting people down, I fell out with my family. It was tough. One day I looked in the mirror and said that this isn’t the type of person that I’m trying to be.”

He has adopted a new positive mindset, and that has been very notable in California. Aside from a couple of exceptions, he has been much more relaxed. Following Jannik Sinner’s withdrawal from their fourth-round match, he even held an impromptu Q&A for fans inside the stadium. Kyrgios’ tennis has also improved. After a couple of years in which the Australian has barely played due to COVID-19 and fitness problems, he is making a splash for his on-court results again.

First, he became an Australian Open champion alongside good friend Thanasi Kokkinakis. Here, his run at Indian Wells hints at a resurgence in his singles game, following an injury-affected 2021 which ended with an underwhelming 7-8 win-loss record. It’s a small sample size, but a promising one – not just for him, but for the sport. There’s no doubt about it. Tennis needs Nick. Or to be more accurate, it needs the best version of Nick.

There is no denying that he has been a polarising figure. At his best, he is a virtuoso tennis player, an incredible shot maker and a natural showman. His unique style and brash personality has attracted a new, younger group of fans to the sport. At his worst, he has been a magnet for controversy. Umpire abuse, accusations of tanking and even throwing chairs around on the court are among the incidents that have too often overshadowed his amazing performances.

And they truly are amazing. When he is motivated, he can challenge anyone. We saw it yesterday, and we saw it against Nadal at Wimbledon 2014, against Djokovic here at Indian Wells in 2017, and his three-set epic with Federer in Miami in the same year. He is box office material, but his headline-grabbing wins have been sporadic as well as sensational. Beating Nadal at Wimbledon catapulted Kyrgios into the limelight immediately. But as the years passed, his inconsistency left fans wondering if he warranted the hype.

Eventually the cliché of his Grand Slam champion-in-waiting talent, seemingly repeated in every discussion about him, started to fade. When pundits spoke of the Next Gen successors to the ‘Big Three’, his name was seldom mentioned. However, Kyrgios himself will be happy to be excluded from that conversation. During his career, he has faced more than enough pressure as it is – the pressure to win, the pressure to be someone that he wasn’t. Dealing with it became so tough that he considered leaving the sport altogether.

“A lot of people were putting pressure on me, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I just lost joy for the game and I was spiralling out of control. I fell into depression because of the things I thought I had to be.”

He is in a very different frame of mind now. As he puts it:

“I’m comfortable in my own skin, I’m not trying to please anyone. I’m not trying to be anyone else.

“I’m Nick Kyrgios and I just go out there and play and have fun and if I win, I win and if I lose, I lose.”

Given how well-established he is on the ATP Tour, it is easy to forget that Kyrgios is only 26-years-old. There is much more to come in his fascinating story. Now, he wants to write it on his own terms.

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