We’ll never know what Nick Kyrgios really thinks, late at night when he’s all alone and there’s no one to impress or deflect to (and he may have a lot of those nights to himself soon). Maybe he genuinely doesn’t care that he lost his first Grand Slam final, considering the way that most people have assumed (and he’s admitted) he doesn’t really care about tennis. But if that were true would he have rededicated himself in the past year or two to put himself in position to be in a final? Or to win the Australian Open in doubles? Maybe he doesn’t, or maybe he thinks it sounds cool to say, or maybe that’s what he tells himself to excuse not putting in that extra five percent.
Maybe he thinks the people watching him are genuinely responsible for the moments he came up short on Sunday at Centre Court, and all the other ones that went wrong for him in his career. It’s hard to know what reality looks like to him, given how he’s behaved his entire career. There’s never been a coach to get his head on straight, to focus on what’s in front of him instead of off to the side, and years in that mud could sully just about any view.
Kyrgios is a lot of things though, but one of them isn’t stupid. It’s more likely he knows that, as he looks back at perhaps his only chance to win a Grand Slam, he failed himself. And all the screaming at his box isn’t ever going to change that. And he screamed a lot at them!
Kyrgios was pretty much the equal of Novak Djokovic in four sets in the biggest match of his life. He was only broken twice, took the first set, and for the most part his serve could keep him from getting into too much trouble. Which is quite the feat against the greatest returner of all time, which Djokovic is. He always had an ace or two waiting when the water got the slightest bit rough.
Even when Djokovic dragged him into the deep end, as he does with every opponent, making every point turn into longer and longer rallies that are designed to get whoever he’s playing to crack, Kyrgios was almost always right there with him. There was the occasional trip to the zoo, but the trip to the zoo works when you can do stuff like this:
But the match hinged on two games where Kyrgios had a 40-0 or 0-40 lead. The first came in the second set’s last game, where Kyrgios ran out to a 0-40 lead with Djokovic serving for the set. This was a chance to tie the set, get it to a tiebreak when he already had a set lead, and perhaps his first real glimpse at the reality of a Wimbledon title. He couldn’t get a return back, and the set was gone.
That only generated the first real soliloquy at his player’s box, somehow pinning the blame for his missed return at 0-40 on those sitting in sunglasses rather than himself holding the racket. There was another one in the third set, when Kyrgios had a 40-0 lead in that set’s penultimate game. One Djoker winner to make it 40-15 spooked Kyrgios, and he blew the rest of the game, the set, and from there it was a mountain he was never going to scale.
Kyrgios can look at a lot of things positively. The fact that he stared down the world’s best player, maybe it’s greatest ever, in a way most fade from. He was able to grind with Djokovic for a lot of the match in a way few can, and that isn’t really his game, either. He had Djokovic flummoxed at various points of the match. If he were interested in building on this, there’s quite a foundation. He is capable of the most sublime tennis on the biggest stages with the most pressure. There may be no better set of hands on tour.
But is that what he really wants? It was a sure bet he didn’t before this tournament. But with those two glimpses in the second and third set, first of a real lead and the second of true equality in a Wimbledon final, both making the idea of “Nick Kyrgios, Wimbledon Champion” seem truly feasible, was it Nick himself who ran out of belief? Or want to? Who shirked the responsibility? Because there would be no excuses from there.
The screaming at his box or at the chair umpire felt more desperate than just part of the theater Kyrgios is usually displaying. This was trying to find a port in a storm. Perhaps when you direct all that anger outward toward anything handy you don’t have to do so inward, to where the real culprit is.
Perhaps it never mattered to Kyrgios before that he was the only thing standing in his way of winning titles and being talked about with the game’s best. The talent is certainly there. But when you relegate yourself to a sideshow that’s usually done before the third or fourth round, there isn’t too much weight to it. What have you really cost yourself?
But when it’s a final, your first, quite possibly your last, and you’re certainly never going to get a walkover in the semifinals again, now there’s a true price. Kyrgios got a look, and decided it wasn’t for him and then yelled at everyone else to cover up for it. Now the toll of being a basketcase is all too clear to him. Perhaps winning the final would have shown everyone just how much he’s wasted in his career. If he could do this, where was it before? Most importantly, maybe it showed him, and he ran from it in a torrent of complaints and swears. Wonder how that will sit.