Mark it off on your calendars, folks, the second-annual “Nick Kyrgios Shanghai meltdown” has come and gone.
Last year it was fresh off the back of his biggest title to date in Tokyo, tanking his way through a second round match with Mischa Zverev, this time it was off an impressive run to the Beijing final, which he followed up with by walking out on his first round encounter with Steve Johnson.
In both cases, his actions have been met with a slap-on-the-wrist from the ATP, receiving a $32,900 fine and eight-week suspension last year, while this year’s escapade earned him a $10,000 fine, plus forfeiture of his $21,085 prize money.
Just two examples in a career littered with such incidents, it’s clear Kyrgios’ attitude towards professional tennis isn’t getting any better, in fact it might be getting worse. That’s not a good thing for anyone, but especially a player who can no longer be considered a ‘young gun’.
No, 22 isn’t old in tennis terms, but when you look at the ages that players with similarly immense potential start actually delivering, it’s not young either – even for headcases. John McEnroe and Marat Safin were both major champions at 20. Andre Agassi won Wimbledon at 22. Even Stan Wawrinka – who took a long time to break through at a major – was in the top 10 by 23. Hell, even Mark Philippoussis was a US Open finalist at 21.
Add that historical context to Kyrgios’ own – major quarterfinalist twice at 19, world no. 13 a year ago and the danger is real, made all the worse by the complete absence of motivation necessary to turn it around.
If there’s one thing Kyrgios is world class at, it’s shaking off the criticism and disdain, but right now it seems as if the carrot is unappealing as the stick. All we have to do is look at what came before the incidents in Shanghai for proof of that. Last year it was the Tokyo final against David Goffin, where he played some of his finest tennis over three tough sets to take the title. This year, it was the Laver Cup, where he seemed to relish not just the chance to play alongside many of his peers, but the challenge of carrying the hopes for Team World, his tear-strewn face after losing to Roger Federer in the final match showing you just how much he cared. Either one of those events should have been a turning point, as they proved he can definitely cut it with the game’s elite, instead he went back to his worst self immediately.
And that’s the heartbreaking thing – he is an undeniable talent who can blitz future slam champions as he did to Sascha Zverev in Beijing, or paint the lines even while simultaneously throwing a tantrum as he did this year in Shanghai. Everyone can see how high he can go. Everyone except Nick Kyrgios.
If he is to turn it around – and it’s an increasingly big ‘if’ – something how he approaches the game has to change drastically. What that is for sure only he will know, but maybe it’s time to think outside the box. Hunt down the McEnroes, Safins and Philippoussis of the game and ask them about their experiences. Go the basketball route – hit up your Nike contacts and get them to put you in touch with the likes of Kevin Durant and LeBron James to learn about work ethic. You could even try to make your own playing experience as close to basketball as possible. Travel with other players who you can lean on and compare against, keep to a strict schedule for training and meetings as decided by your coaches, and of course, get your name in every trade rumor involving the Lakers. In all seriousness, the Laver Cup showed how you can flourish in a real team environment, and considering the regular tour isn’t going to provide that for you, maybe you should look to build it yourself.
Unfortunately, time is running out to reap the most of such changes, and in any case, we as tennis fans are going to have to accept he may never put it together. If Shanghai ’16 wasn’t a wake-up call, if the Laver Cup couldn’t provide a turning point, maybe nothing can. Sincerely, I hope I’m wrong, but the days of assuming it will change eventually are officially gone. It doesn’t matter who you are, you only get to enjoy your physical prime once, and Nick Kyrgios is on the verge of wasting his.