Here’s another Nick Kyrgios article, a genre that has been well worn and has covered virtually every angle that there is to cover.
Nick Kyrgios is, by some exponential margin, the most talented tennis player on tour. He moves like a gazelle despite being 6-foot-4, his forehand is massive and dripping with top spin, his backhand (despite having all the aesthetic beauty of a cat vomiting) is precise and dangerous in both directions, his serve tops 140 mph, and his feel is unbelievable.
If he wanted to, he could be an untouchable player.
He, of course, is down at number 17 in the world, with four titles to his name (three 250 events and one 500 event and all but one of them in 2016). Being ranked like that when you have more personality than the rest of the tour combined makes for a very good quality of life, and Nick Kyrgios seems mostly satisfied with that, and that’s fine.
There are also times where he appears to not give a half a shit about the task he is supposed to be accomplishing. Normally, when that happens, he’ll eject all the way out of a match, lose to a scrub 6-3 6-2, and that’s the end of the story. Those matches are interesting in their own unique way, in the same way it would be interesting to see a Lamborghini driven by a toddler.
What I didn’t expect from the early stages of 2018 is for Nick Kyrgios to weaponize his “don’t give a shit-ness.”
The Brisbane International 250 event is truly a second rate tournament. It was not the biggest prize of the week (Doha, won by Gael Monfils, has nearly double the purse), and it wasn’t even the most notable event in Australia (the Hoppman Cup, an exhibition, was headlined by Roger Federer, Alexander Zverev, Jack Sock, and David Goffin). Nick Kyrgios got his way to the semifinals by clowning his way through three set matches and giving 20% effort, something that would get him in to trouble in most places, but not here. It’s hard to blame Kyrgios for not bringing his top game against Alexandr Dolgopolov and Matthew Ebden.
Kyrgios’s opponent in the semifinals would be Grigor Dimitrov, who is a tryhard.
First of all, he’s not good.
He’s world number 3, but a 2-22 combined record against Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic should make it pretty clear how much of an absolute joke that ranking is.
Second of all, Grigor Dimitrov probably fascinates over wearing Roger Federer’s skin as his own. His game is very consciously “Roger Federer Ripoff Lite.”
Mostly, though, he’s a tennis psycho.
Here he is breaking three rackets and forfeiting against Diego Schwartzman.
Dimitrov is far from the top tier of tennis psychos, but he’s an emotional player, someone who desperately needs there to be fight.
Nick Kyrgios was the perfect foil.
Kyrgios came to Pat Rafter Arena with tape all over his knee and a grimace on his face. From the second he started to warm up, he looked hurt and disinterested. He was broken early in the first set by choosing to hit a tweener lob off a shot he easily could have ran around. Kyrgios pulled up on reachable balls.
He looked like he quit.
Dimitrov cruised through an easy 6-3 opening set.
The early second set appeared to be more of the same. There was Kyrgios blasting a running forehand 30 feet past the baseline, but he was running. And perhaps that should have clued us in to what was really going on.
Kyrgios got weirder and weirder. He went for the SABR return of serve (which at this point should be named the SABN) on, I swear, 15% of the points. He started pounding balls tossed to him by ball boys into the back wall, sometimes with the handle of his racket. He took one second between serves. He would fluctuate between tearing around the court and acting as though he was wearing cement shoes. He was dancing between changeovers and impatiently waiting on the baseline while Dimitrov would try his best to slow down the tempo.
All the while, Kyrgios was putting his foot down.
His incessant Kyrgiosness completely ruined Grigor Dimitrov. His usually unreliable second serve became completely unglued. He double faulted on a mind boggling 20% of all second serves. Grigor Dimitrov went from looking like he was being handed a ATP semifinal match to getting wiped off the court like he was a junior. He lost 3-6 6-1 6-4 in a match that was not nearly that close.
And the whole time he was talking to himself.
The mindset of a tennis player is not a healthy one. There’s a reason why the craziest parents are tennis parents. You need to be somewhat unhinged to subject yourself to the grind of the tour. And as such, players are acclimatized to the fight. Players get themselves through lung busting matches played in far flung corners of the globe on spite or anger or, if you’re feeling charitable, “drive.”
But what happens when your opponent doesn’t reciprocate that same feeling?
Grigor Dimitrov couldn’t beat Nick Kyrgios by himself. He didn’t and doesn’t have the mental fortitude to get himself through a match against such a talented opponent in front of a hostile crowd. He needed some energy to go against and to match.
Nick Kyrgios knew it. And Nick Kyrgios took away his oxygen.
Grigor Dimitrov was punching shadows. What sense does it make yelling “come on!” to psyche yourself up when your opponent responds by sticking his tongue out and shrugging? How demoralizing is it when your opponent doesn’t move his feet and just wrists forehands onto the chalk? It wasn’t just the tempo Nick Kyrgios controlled against Grigor Dimitrov. He controlled the energy.
We know what Kyrgios can do when he makes the stadium electric. Against Dimitrov, he controlled the energy by sucking it all out.
Nick Kyrgios has said he doesn’t love tennis. He’ll make you feel the same way. Each boneheaded play, each random tweener, each go-for-broke return drags you farther from shore, farther from anything comfortable. The only thing waiting for you is a deathmatch against an opponent who can not be defeated because he welcomes defeat.
Welcome to hell.