Brazen, brash and blatant Nick Kyrgios played out a thriller of a match in the second round of the Wimbledon 2019 and, as usual, his actions on and off the pitch stirred a lot of controversies. Journalists covered his post-match press conference extensively and publications minced and dissected every word. The headlines all ran the same.
Nick Kyrgios continued to be the modern-day bad boy of tennis but unlike John McEnroe before him, his defiant attitude and outspokenness wasn’t backed by hordes of title wins and moments at the very top of the game.
He lost the particular match after putting up quite a spectacle to Nadal, mind you, but somehow he was talked about more than the victor – and that could just well be the perfect metaphor for his career.
Accused of playing ‘equal parts hero and equal parts villain’ and ‘continuing to delight and frustrate’ in equal measure, Kyrgios demonstrated the transcending power he had of polarising the world of tennis. Playing out a 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (3) second-round loss at the famous centre court to Rafael Nadal- a rematch of his famous Wimbledon debut where his teenage-self beat Rafa to advance to the quarters in 2014, he produced two divisive moments that replaced market inflation and became the most discussed topic among people.
The first, a body shot, the second, the underarm serve. While the rulebooks of tennis do not forbid either, it is an unwritten code of law that employing both these in your game is frowned upon and doesn’t exactly qualify as professional conduct. Nick would, however, disagree because it won him the points. Asked later after the game, whether he would apologise to Nadal for the body shot, he blatantly admitted that he did not care what Nadal thought about it and that he wanted to hit him on the chest.
However, there was much more to his game than his standout temperament. Capable of producing moments of absolute genius that left your jaw dropped to the ground, Nick was his usual brilliant self against Nadal as well. Showboating and wowing the crowd with his iconic hitting the ball through his own legs, trying to win audacious points only to be let down by fine margins, striking the ball straight at the World No. 2 and responding to a call going against him by absolutely demolishing the next few points– it was vintage Nick and he provided more than a gruelling gladiatorial fight to someone who is regarded as one of the greatest ever to play the sport.
But after everything was said and done, Nick still lost the game. It marked his exit from the Wimbledon and let’s be honest, that was expected. Nadal, still young at 33 and having conquered the clay court once again showed that his decline is far from over while Kyrgios is 24 years of age and ranked 41 spots behind Rafael in the world rankings.
And yet, every time he fails, rather spectacularly at that, the media, former professionals and even his peers descend into chaos and critique. Why? Because everyone can see the potential of greatness in him to accomplish so much more if he became less of himself and adopted more professionalism. There are elements in his game that are absolutely out of the routine of mechanical, trained end products that top draws like Novak possess after years and years of single-minded practice and perfection.
There is no controversy about one thing regarding Nick Kyrgios- the fact that he is insanely gifted and like many greats before him to walk down this muddy road, Nick too does not have the mental fortitude to abate the quirks of his personality. In his own words, he admitted with a painful candour, “I know what I’m capable of. I’m a great tennis player but I don’t do the other stuff. I’m not the most professional guy. I won’t train day in, day out. I won’t show up every day. So there’s a lot of things I need to improve on to get to that level that Rafa, Novak [Djokovic], Roger [Federer] have been doing for so long. Just depends how bad I want it. But, no, at the moment I don’t think I can contend for a grand slam.”
And there lies the dilemma.
If Nick Kyrgios himself does not care about his legacy or reaching the pinnacle of his career and is contended with enjoying himself and giving these outrageous moments to obsess over again and again, then why should the media and the world of tennis care? For all the love and hate he gets, let’s get one thing straight- you cannot take your eyes off Nick Kyrgios when he is in his element.
So why should it matter whether he went to the pub the night before facing the great Rafael Nadal? Why should anybody be bothered about him not getting his head straight and focusing on the game?
In a world of serial mechanical winners, Kyrgios is an outlaw that brings a different joy to tennis. He is a mess of squandered genius in extravagant proportions and his magnificent disaster strikes a chord amongst the younger fans of the game who might not be as obsessed with forehands and backhands as with the ‘box office’ tag that Kyrgios carries and delivers upon. Even when he is not trying to, Nick still manages to amuse and entertain.
You can love Kyrgios for being a rebel, you can hate him for being a spoiled brat but you cannot ignore him when he struts his stuff. And maybe that is all there is to Nick, maybe even all there is supposed to be- who are we to judge someone enjoying what he does best and living his best life?