Nick Kyrgios: Bad Boy Gone Good

Nick Kyrgios US Open Hat

Nick Kyrgios has always been an enigma. Supremely talented and earmarked for early success, the fiery Australian often found new and inventive ways to self-destruct. This year seems to be a turning point, however, as a string of impressive results, suggests he may have finally turned the corner.

He announced himself to the world in 2014 through a deep run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals. Rafael Nadal, the world number one at the time, was one of his earlier victims. The Aussie displayed poise and his audacious shot-making ability. The 2013 junior Australian Open champion served notice on one of the game’s biggest stages. His future held much promise.

Self-sabotage

Time can be a cruel mistress. Those heady days seem a distant memory. Multiple infractions and a litany of fines threatened to derail the Australian firebrand’s entire career.

His work ethic has always been a bone of contention. Early retirements in matches with no apparent injuries, suggested his shortcomings were mental. These embarrassing moments of ‘tanking’ in matches, made him public enemy number one. He became a willing scapegoat for all that was wrong in men’s tennis.

Kyrgios’s confrontational attitude with his fellow players served to alienate him even further. Perhaps his most unsavory moment was his altercation with Stan Wawrinka. A moment of petulance with a derogatory comment aimed at the Swiss player’s girlfriend catalyzed a spat that almost turned physical. One could argue that even to this day, the Aussie has failed to live down this infamy. The normally forgiving tennis public calls him out at every opportunity.

Australian roots

Even in his homeland, where his countrymen often rooted for the underdog and a cheeky villain, Kyrgios’s antics garnered little sympathy. His talent was undeniable but he lacked the grit and tenacity of a Lleyton Hewitt or the effortless grace and charisma of a Pat Rafter, two of Australia’s greatest sons.

Furthermore, his unavailability in some crucial Davis Cup ties reinforced the perception of a selfish, egotistical individual. His earlier friendship with Bernard Tomic, another serial underachiever, did little to sway Aussie sentiment. Sure he could win the occasional tussle with one of the Big Three. But there was no period of sustained excellence to capture the nation’s imagination.

Change in fortune

2022 could prove pivotal for this Australian maverick. A newfound maturity and a seemingly stable personal life have seen him finally realize some of his early potential. A loss at the last hurdle at Wimbledon, despite some inspirational and gutsy play, has finally endeared him to the media and the fans alike. He followed this up with a quarter-final run at the US Open, losing a grueling five-setter to Karen Khachanov. A far cry from the ‘tanking’ Australian of yesteryear.

Still only 27, Kyrgios has at least another five years in the tank to cement his legacy in the game. If he maintains this newfound dedication and love for the game, he could still carve a meaningful niche for himself within the game. It is also worth remembering that the Big Three dominated tennis for the better part of twenty years. Aside from Andy Murray and maybe a handful of other players, the sport is ripe for someone of Kyrgios’s undoubted ability. If he can finally get past his demons, he could yet leave an indelible mark on the game that his talent demanded.

However, before we get our hopes up, we have seen this show before. His Jekyll and Hyde personality provided many false dawns already. As tennis purists, the public will be hoping for some sustained momentum on the part of the unpredictable Australian. For his own sake, if only to get rid of the ‘what could have been’ tag that has followed him his entire career.

Whatever happens, for now at least, he has saved his career from heading down the path of journeyman status. Given his checkered past, we must be thankful for small mercies.

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