He was once known as the super brat of the game but Nick Kyrgios has shaped up as the Open’s unexpected voice of reason, say David Meddows and Amy Harris.
He was once known as the super brat of the game but Nick Kyrgios has shaped up as the Open’s unexpected voice of reason, say David Meddows and Amy Harris.

'What we got so wrong about Nick Kyrgios'

ANALYSIS

Nick Kyrgios has emerged from the storm surrounding the Australian Open as the unexpected voice of reason, but when the controversial tennis star shaped up against world No.1 Novak Djokovic this week he was again showing a side we've too often ignored.

The outspoken Aussie is no stranger to headlines, often not for the obvious potential he has in spades, but for the on-court antics and childish outbursts that many believed were destroying the chances of a local to return Australia to the pinnacle of men's world tennis.

But ever so slowly - and very much under the radar in many cases - the brash kid from Canberra has been demonstrating he is more than just another spoiled tennis brat with a bulging bank balance.

Nick Kyrgios. Picture: David Caird
Nick Kyrgios. Picture: David Caird

Last year it was his work in raising money and awareness for Australian bushfire victims and the emotion that poured out of him after his ATP Cup win in January.

"I don't really care about the praise too much," he said on court after the win. "I just think we have the ability and the platform to do something. My hometown is Canberra and we have the most toxic air in the world at the moment."

Then came the global pandemic and he was at it again, buying thousands of dollars' worth of groceries and delivering them to those who couldn't leave their homes. He also voiced his disapproval of tennis tournaments being played as the number of COVID deaths around the world skyrocketed.

Former player Sam Groth, now a commentator and columnist, believes that desperate need for another male champion has forced many to focus on Kyrgios's perceived bad behaviours and blown chances rather than the work he's doing when not holding onto a racquet.

"For a long time we've been crying out for that next Australian men's champion and then you go to last year when the bushfires hit and all of a sudden Nick became this voice of reason," he told Saturday Extra.

"People got to see him in a completely different light to this brash tennis player on the court doing things that, to be honest, a lot of tennis players do, but we seem to just jump on him for because we haven't had that champion on the men's side since Lleyton."

Kyrgios showed this other side again this week when he took aim at world No.1 and long-time foe Djokovic.

 

His Twitter spray came after the Serbian sent a list of suggestions to Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley for changes to the hotel quarantine conditions imposed on a large number of international players.

Forced into 14 days of hard lockdown after arriving on chartered planes where several passengers tested positive to COVID-19 on arrival, 72 players were confined to hotel rooms and not allowed out for any reason - the same conditions imposed on most international arrivals.

Djokovic complained about the treatment of these players who were under the impression - rightly or wrongly is still to be determined - they would be allowed out to train for up to five hours a day.

His list of demands, which were hastily and unapologetically rejected by Victorian premier Dan Andrews, included a call for a reduction in the number of days players must isolate, permission to visit coaches and training staff and moving players to private homes with tennis courts.

After a massive backlash online, Djokovic tried to explain via a note addressed to 'Australia' and posted on Twitter that his intentions had been "misconstrued as being selfish, difficult and ungrateful" and that he was, in fact, just brainstorming with Tiley while trying to stand up for the less fortunate players who didn't have the platform he did.

Responding to a TV news report on Djokovic's list - which also included a report on Bernard Tomic's isolation and his girlfriend's complaints about not being able to have her hair washed by someone else - Kyrgios let fly.

"Djokovic is a tool. I don't mind Bernie but his Mrs obviously has no perspective, ridiculous scenes," he wrote in a tweet on Monday that has more than 20,000 likes.

It was the Australian's way of calling out the absurdity of Djokovic's claims of mistreatment and silencing the chorus of complaints from other players that followed.

Kyrgios had again emerged as the voice of reason.

Kyrgios’s tweet aimed at Djokovic. Picture: Twitter
Kyrgios’s tweet aimed at Djokovic. Picture: Twitter

The short but powerful rebuke was the latest in a long-running war of words between the two powerful players - albeit a relatively one-sided war.

When Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki all contracted COVID during the Serb's ill-fated Adria Tour during the height of the pandemic last year, Kyrgios didn't shy away from letting his feelings be known.

"Hell of a tennis player. May go unbeaten in 2020, can't take that away from him. Unfortunately when he was supposed to show some leadership and humility he went missing. Majority would say he has taken an L regardless," he tweeted.

In 2017, he was even more cutting.

"No matter how many grand slams he wins, like, he will never be the greatest to me, simply because I've played him twice and, I'm sorry, if you can't beat me you're not the greatest of all-time," he wrote.

Just to make sure everyone knew he stood by these feelings, Kyrgios re-posted this quote to his Instagram Stories yesterday with the caption "I ain't holding back".

But it was during a 2019 podcast that he really laid out his true feelings - if they weren't obvious by then.

"I just feel like he has a sick obsession (of) wanting to be liked," he said. "He just wants to be like Roger. He just wants to be liked so much that I just can't stand him."

There is no filter with Kyrgios, what he thinks he says, or more commonly, tweets.

It's why his barbs against Djokovic are so raw and often quite shocking for that level of tennis competition where elite players are usually fairly circumspect when asked about their rivals.

 

Kyrgios' public beef with Djokovic has also shed some light on who lays in what camp, with several high-profile players and athletes openly siding with Kyrgios by way of 'liking' and following his social media.

Among them, British tennis star Andy Murray, a long-time ally and mentor of Kyrgios who regularly backs his pal in his social media scrimmages against Djokovic and his other well-publicised foe Rafael Nadal.

Rising US player Jack Sock, too, lies firmly in Team Kyrgios along with Greek young gun Stefanos Tsitsipas and, surprisingly, retired Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis who is often one to retweet the colourful posts.

Kyrgios's comments and social media musings are met with an even mix of love from his fans and derision from his haters, but Groth believes he's often on the money.

"Nick just says what he means all the time," he said. "I think a lot of times we criticise him for that but when you look at it, compared to what some of the other (players) say - and you look at it from an objective point of view - quite often he's actually not wrong in his opinion."

Kyrgios revealed in a wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Telegraph's Stellar magazine last year that he had started to notice a shift in public perception after his efforts to raise money for bushfire victims in January 2020.

 

 

 

"I didn't necessarily feel more welcome, it's more that the public in Australia were starting to understand what I was about, rather than just tennis," he told the magazine.

He also gave an insight into where his more colourful behaviour might come from, the pressure of having the weight of Australia's tennis hopes squarely on his shoulders and being used as a pawn in a race he didn't necessarily want to be in.

"I felt like no one wanted to know me as a person, they just wanted to get a hold of me as a tennis player and use me. I didn't feel like I could trust anyone. It was a lonely, dark place. And things came from that," he said.

The complexity and unpredictability of the ATP Tour draws has meant that Kyrgios and Djokovic have only ever played each other twice - both times in 2017 tournaments.

Kyrgios won both as he reminded followers when he reposted his scathing 2017 tweet to Instagram this week. That same unpredictability means the two fierce enemies could provide the greatest of showdowns in Melbourne - as early as round one.

Djokovic, who is on track to be the greatest ever player on paper, is the clear favourite to take out his ninth Australian Open, but Kyrgios has a home advantage, some pent up rage just dying to be unleashed and an ever-growing crowd of supporters coming over to his side.

 

Originally published as What we got so wrong about Nick Kyrgios


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