By Sharada Iyer, Tennis With An Accent
Like every person in this world, Nick Kyrgios is a flawed human being. But unlike many of us, Nick Kyrgios also happens to be a professional athlete which makes him a flawed professional athlete. In no way does this make him an outside-looking-in figure in the fraternity of the global sports community, or even within the subset of the professional tennis-playing community. Nonetheless, Kyrgios is still an outlier in that while he’s aware of having flaws, he has still not reconciled himself to having to face them.
The Australian’s injury-laden retirement in the third round at Wimbledon is an example of this larger dynamic.
The World No. 60, who was playing his first tournament in almost six months – since the Australian Open in February – was forced to submit to his uncooperative body that hadn’t been used to the rigours of the game in a good while. It was as though the first two rounds had sapped all the support his physique could offer him.
The manner of Kyrgios’ exit brought out the irony of the situation with a throwback to his own words after his first-round win over Ugo Humbert.
After that five-set victory, asked about the limited preparation time ahead of Wimbledon, Kyrgios had said, “Yeah, look, a lot of people were telling me there’s no chance, there’s no point in you going with that short preparation. I was hearing a load of things.”
The 26-year-old then doubled down on his stance:
“I know how to play on grass. I’m not scared of anyone in the draw. I know if I believe and I’m feeling good mentally, like, I know what I’m capable of.”
“I know that three, four days, a week, doesn’t matter for me. A week preparation is not going to change. I’ve been playing this sport since I was seven years old. Like, three, two days, I could have two days, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to go out there and give it. I’m going to serve big and play big, and just compete… I don’t really care what anyone says. I’m my own person. I prepare the way I prepare and it worked.”
As far as short-term working was concerned, Kyrgios’ preparation did work. But in terms of sustaining him for the longer haul, his preparation didn’t help him over the course of the full opening week, let alone the second week. As much as a sportsperson’s preparation remains unique and individualised, when it comes to Kyrgios, both his training methods and his attitude toward them often miss the woods for the trees.
Each time this happens, it becomes part of Kyrgios’ continued insouciance toward his career and – crucially – toward himself as the person engaged in the said career.
Interestingly, once again, Kyrgios’ actions had a reference point in his own words from the not-so-distant past. Refer to his Wimbledon press conference following his win over Gianluca Mager in the second round.
“I just feel like I don’t put as much pressure on myself any more. When I was younger, it was hard to deal with all the criticism that the media gave me, that everyone gave me. ‘He should be doing this; he should be achieving this. He’s not doing this enough.’ Like, it beat me down to a point of very bad depression. I wasn’t even enjoying myself. Like, I wasn’t even coming to Wimbledon and enjoying myself. I was not embracing this amazing event. I wasn’t embracing having another day. Now I just enjoy it when I’m out there. I breathe in the fresh air. Like, I don’t take anything for granted,” Kyrgios opened up about having to deal with the pressure of expectations.
He followed this with a self-assessment of what he brought to the tennis table as a pro.
“I’m okay with not winning Grand Slams. I know that’s going to make a lot of people angry. ‘He should be doing this.’ But I shouldn’t, though. It’s not your life, it’s mine. I’m okay with just enjoying myself, putting on a show,” he shared.
“Not everyone can be a (Roger) Federer or (Novak) Djokovic. These are, like, once-in-a-decade athletes that, like, inspire millions of people. Like, they’re just gods. I see them as that, too. You have to have some people, I believe, that are relatable, that people can bring other fans to watch, like people that are just normal. I feel like I’m one of those people. Not everyone can be a Federer, a Djokovic or a (Rafael) Nadal. I’m Nick Kyrgios. I know who I am.”
Knowing who he is should then make it easier for Kyrgios to come to terms with the fact that he has to want to be the best he can be. If that means putting on a show, so be it. Likewise, by using Federer, Djokovic and Nadal as a reference and their way of functioning as a benchmark for not being able to be who he wants to be, Kyrgios is doing everyone a disservice. To tennis, to its audience, to these three players, and most of all, to himself.
This is the biggest reality to which Nick Kyrgios has been impervious, even now.