Of all Nick Kyrgios’s many many many many tantrums, the one he unleashed today at the Italian Open was his most over-the-top display yet. On the heels of a brutally honest interview with tennis writer Ben Rothenberg, in which Kyrgios admitted winning tennis matches doesn’t make him happy, that he does the least amount of work on tour, and that all he wants to do is be at home playing basketball and video games, it’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore the fact that, despite his obvious talent, maybe Kyrgios simply doesn’t want to be a pro tennis player.
Today’s meltdown started early in the third set of his second-round match against 76th-ranked Norwegian Casper Ruud when Kyrgios’s serve was broken. Kyrgios began yelling at people in the stands for allegedly moving and being distracting during his serve. For that he was given a code violation, which, given an earlier code violation, converted into a game penalty, and from there it escalated. He chucked his racket to the clay, kicked a water bottle, threw a chair to center court, screamed to the crowd, “I am fucking done,” packed up and stalked off the court.
On the broadcast, you can see the crowd’s reaction.
Yesterday, Rothenberg published an episode of his podcast No Challenges Remaining featuring an 50-minute interview with Kyrgios that was conducted on Tuesday, after Kyrgios’s Italian Open win over Daniil Medvedev. In it, the 24-year-old admitted that the fear of failure does contribute to why he doesn’t always give his full effort.
Rothenberg: Do you feel, more philosophically, that like you’re intentionally afraid to give a full effort in tennis? One thing I’ve heard people guess about you and other athletes is that you’re maybe afraid that if you gave a full effort and didn’t win a Grand Slam then it would show more clearly that you were never good enough to do that. And you’re intentionally sort of holding yourself back in some way so you always have an excuse?
Kyrgios: For sure I think there’s an element of that, but at the same time when I was 19 at Wimbledon and I was at the quarter finals, I was giving my full effort. And literally since that day that was probably my best chance at winning a Grand Slam. I had a good draw, I played [Milos] Raonic when he wasn’t maybe as good as he has been, I was up a set and a break. And then to play Roger when his back was a little bit like [injured]—so that was my best chance but ever since then I haven’t really... I’ve gone to the fourth round or quarters and run into maybe Murray or someone who’s just been too good. I literally can’t win even if I was ticking all the boxes, I wouldn’t be able to win. But now, I know deep down, like I’ve had conversations with myself like, is it a front? But winning Grand Slams or winning tennis matches, to me, they don’t make me happy. For instance today, as soon as I won the match I was so happy to get off the court, like literally just get some food. [...] I thought when I was younger it would be cool to have all this, the fame and the money, but it doesn’t make me happy at all. I just want to be home and doing low-key things.
This isn’t the first time Kyrgios has made comments like this, but this is by far the most complete he’s been on the subject. Kyrgios had previously feuded with Rothenberg, but the two buried the hatchet at the beginning of the interview and went on to have a frank, wide-ranging conversation about Kyrgios’s mindset, life on the tour, and other players. The entire interview is well worth a listen, but some highlights include Kyrgios talking about getting “hammered” and partying most nights until 4:30 a.m. while he was playing Acapulco earlier this year, a tournament he went on to win; his desire to play doubles with passionate content creator Stefanos Tsitsipas, even though he thinks Tsitsipas’s “half-naked” photo was “too much”; and calling Rafael Nadal “super salty” and Novak Djokovic “cringeworthy.”
On Instagram, Kyrgios apologized for flipping out.
That “maybe” is the most important word of the whole post. Maybe today’s tantrum is just one more for the file. Maybe he’ll get a new coach or find inner peace or seize on a source of motivation or go see a sports psychologist and discover meaning or joy in tennis. That would be lovely. But for years, Kyrgios has been showing and telling the world that he does not want to be a professional tennis player. And for years the world—fans, coaches, reporters, other players—loath to see talent go unrealized and addicted to the thrill of the Kyrgios show, have willed him to stick around, to try, to want it. Maybe it’s time to stop.