With the US Open set to begin in a week, a recurring question has bobbed to the surface in the wake of Nick Kyrgios belting his way to the Cincinnati Masters 1000 final. Is it time once again to expect a breakthrough from the talented Aussie?
A skeptic might scoff at the idea and reply with the old saw, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” But the recent success of generational peers led by sensational Alexander Zverev, 20, may light a fire under Kyrgios.
“I’ve just been going through a load of stuff [lately] that has distracted me from just trying to play some tennis, and hopefully I’m just trying to get on the right track again,” Kyrgios told reporters in Cincinnati. “I’m starting to, slowly.”
At the French Open, Kyrgios said he doesn’t like to practice on red clay back at home in Canberra because “it gets my car dirty.” He may wear his sensitivity on his clay-free sleeve, but he’s launched ugly controversies and confrontations.
Still, Kyrgios has the degree of talent that successfully extorts forgiveness from people who cherish the game and the kind of rare talent he possesses. Asking people to give him more time to mature, and to issue him a pass on numerous shortcomings is a humming cottage industry. Old-school Aussie stalwarts like Kyrgios’ Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt and Rod Laver have refused to spurn him. At the worst of times, even they look like enablers who make too many concessions to Kyrgios’ incandescent talent — and overlook some of his cut-and-dried flaws.
On Sunday in Cincinnati, Kyrgios volubly complained about the heat and then wilted at the worst time, surrendering a shockingly easy service break that allowed Dimitrov to serve out what had been a good match up until then with a disappointing lack of drama. Both were first-time Masters finalists, although Dimitrov — once a dazzling prodigy himself — is older (26) and ranked nine spots above Kyrgios, at No. 9. It was just the kind of match Kyrgios needs to win in order to avoid becoming, like Dimitrov, the Next Big Thing who has yet to happen.
Kyrgios is an impressive 12-17 against top-10 players since he stunned No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014. He’s beaten every member of the Big Four but Andy Murray. Yet he comes up flat in too many big matches and seems to have a healthy appetite for self-destruction.
It’s a mystery. It’s complicated. It’s the story of Kyrgios career thus far. The US Open awaits.