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Tennis unfiltered — Andrew Burton on Nick Kyrgios

Tennis Accent Staff



Robert Deutsch - USA TODAY Sports

Saqib Ali asked Andrew Burton about Nick Kyrgios from two different angles: Kyrgios’s tennis and the way the media covers or approaches the Australian.

Here is what Andrew had to say:

I think Kyrgios’s win in Acapulco is almost a Rorschach test for the way you think about tennis. Nearly everyone has an opinion who isn’t Nick Kyrgios about whether Nick Kyrgios is good for tennis or not. I’m not sure what Rafael Nadal thought about it after what was by all accounts the most thrilling match of the year so far, when Kyrgios saved umpteen break points and three match points against Nadal. There was a good bit of niggle in that match. Nadal spoke a little bit cuttingly about Kyrgios in the postmatch press conference. That was just the round of 16. Kyrgios went on to beat Wawrinka, he beat Isner, and he beat Sascha Zverev. That’s a genuine Murderer’s Row. That is a pretty tough set of outs.

We come back to the question that Kyrgios has talent, and for me, he is the most interesting player to come along in the ATP in the last decade. There is almost no one who can do to a tennis ball what Nick Kyrgios can do, from an astonishing live arm when he serves, to drop shots, to slap backhands, to featured backhands, to cranked forehands. He can do just about anything with a tennis ball. The question is, can he do it day-in and day-out at a tournament, and can he do it week-in, week-out, in a set of tennis tournaments? Obviously the jury is still out on that question.

When I was in Cincinnati you could hear many of the journalists talk about him – I called him the most talked-about player, not the MVP but the most talked-about player in the tournament. They were almost like teachers at a school who have a gifted pupil, who they think if only he will buckle down, if only he will study harder, and if only he’ll be more disciplined, the sky’s the limit. In the press conferences, they would phrase questions to Kyrgios along those lines.

You could almost hear Kyrgios play some of that back. He apparently, after beating Zverev, said, I went jet-skiing at 5:30 p.m., so I don’t think that’s what a top-10 player would do. Later on he said, “I’m very lucky to be in this position. I need to be way more disciplined, way better professionally, and do the right thing. I don’t even have a coach, so maybe I start there.”

Nick’s been hearing this stuff for the last four years or so, ever since he broke onto the scene again with a big win over Nadal at Wimbledon. He remains, I think, one of the most interesting and talented players, but one of the most mercurial, frustrating, irritating, irrepressible – you can empty the adjective box when you talk about Nick Kyrgios.

Many journalists are on deadline. They like stories that write themselves. Being able to provoke a contretemps between two players. Nick, did you hear what Rafa said about you, do you want to say something about it? That helps you to fill up copy. Having tennis’s bad boy provokes the crowd again – that sets up some copy. The narrative around Kyrgios right now is: talented but obstreperous. I thought he came across a little bit like a professional wrestler who is now delighted to play the villain’s role. There are stories that write themselves there.

In terms of Kyrgios finding his way as a tennis player, I think people don’t tend to write these stories about Anglo-Saxon players. They’ll write them about Safin. They’ll write them about Gael Monfils, who is another player who is seen as having an immense amount of talent, but there’s a little bit of sniffiness of “hasn’t had the discipline or dedication.

The Tennis With An Accent staff produces roundtable articles and other articles with group input during the tennis season. Staff articles belong to the TWAA family of writers and contributors, as opposed to any individual commentator. Our staff produces roundtables every week of the tennis season, so that you will always know what the TWAA staff thinks about the important tennis topics of the times.