You wouldn’t have noticed two nights ago, or two mornings ago, as it tends to be with the Australian Open. Daniil Medvedev, currently the favorite to win the whole tournament, beat Nick Kyrgios in four sets. Kyrgios didn’t make it that easy on him, and won the third set while hitting some amazing shots along the way. But when the match got to “the championship rounds,” he wilted. He always does. Same as it ever was. And it doesn’t seem like much, because Kyrgios has never really threatened being around the serious rounds.
The thing is, Kyrgios is probably one of the most talented players on the ATP tour. He has been for years now. Catch him on his day, and you’ll wonder why he isn’t a multi-Grand Slam champion. He can be that good. His serve is unreturnable, when he wants it to be. His forehand can be devastating, when he wants it to be. He can find angles and shots that only few can see, when he wants to. But the thing with Kyrgios is that he rarely wants to do all of that. And the times when does want to, that’s all he wants to do. He’s not interested in the labor pains — constructing a point, putting in the legwork to do so, suffering physically to make those points count — he just wants the baby. He’s in it for the pop from the crowd.
Kyrgios, by his own admission, is just an entertainer. Let Medvedev explain it succinctly:
Kyrgios drives his fellow players nuts. And for some reasons that you’d expect tennis players to get annoyed, he doesn’t bend to convention. He’s happy to over celebrate and play to the crowd. He’ll call others out on their bullshit. He has no problem tanking a match, which embarrasses everyone.
But what might piss off players, under the surface, is the perception that Kyrgios is a waste of talent. Most of them watch him, and either wish they could do some of the things he can do or understand how rare it is to have the gifts to do them, and then see it all just fritter away. They put in the roadwork, they put in the hours, and yet here’s this guy who can get to a higher place because of talent alone and simply refuses to do so.
Kyrgios is also a vibrant personality. He’s good for tennis. He’s got opinions and is a bright guy. He could sell the game if he were in a prominent place. But he won’t ever get there, pretty much simply because he’s chosen not to. This is a guy who has a respectable record against Djokovic (2-0) and Nadal (3-5) because they actually draw his attention. Look at any current Top 10 player right now, and he’s at least around .500 against them.
And yet it doesn’t matter to him. Maybe that’s what bothers players and media so much. All these guys would kill for a Grand Slam title. They’ve dedicated everything to it and go through ungodly training just to sniff it, and usually only to get bludgeoned by Djokovic on the way. It just doesn’t matter to Kyrgios, whom they all know has the talent to win. He dismisses what they crave. His contentment must be such a mystery to them.
It used to piss me off, too, because Kyrgios is so much fun to watch when he’s bothering. His serve is so casual and yet so overpowering. He just flicks a wrist and comes up with winners. Watch the Laver Cup sometime, when he’s on a team and people are actually depending on him, and you’ll see a different player. He doesn’t want to let anyone down.
But when it comes to the tour… well, there’s no one else to let down. This isn’t a team sport player, drafted highly or signed for ridiculous money who just can’t be asked to bring it every night. A Jaromir Jagr with the Capitals, if you will (and most every other team he was on after, but we’ll save that for another time). At the end of the day, Kyrgios is only hurting himself. He’s never had a coach, probably so he can’t let one down. When he chucks a match, someone else gets to advance. When he’s hellbent on being an entertainer, the fans probably go home happy. Whoever beat him while he was more worried about trick shots gets a bigger check. What he’s wasted, and he has wasted a ton, only he will regret. And it sure doesn’t seem like he will.
Almost all of us would kill for the natural gifts Kyrgios has. We can consider it a crime that he’s never truly appreciated what we would cherish. Then again, he’s a millionaire. He’s seen the world several times over. He’s famous. What do we know?
There will be some who always rue what Kyrgios never was. He won’t. And there’s no teammates whom he cost a chance at a championship. He only hurt himself. If he’s fine with it, maybe we should be, too.