The love-hate song of Nick Kyrgios plays on at the US Open

The love-hate song of Nick Kyrgios plays on at the US Open

The Australian asserted himself from the start to convincingly dispatch Antoine Hoang in straight sets on Thursday in New York。


NEW YORK—The year is 2050. Fifty-five-year-old Nick Kyrgios, leader of Team World at this year’s Laver Cup, is regaling his charges with tales from his playing days.

“So coach,” asks one, “you would throw a tantrum and get into it with the chair umpire when things got tight?”

“Get serious, mate,” came the reply. “Didn’t matter how far behind or how far ahead I was. I could always find a way to sabotage myself. Or motivate myself. You tell me. My record speaks for itself.”

It takes so very little to bring this man to the abyss. Tonight, on the Grandstand versus 104th-ranked Antoine Hoang, Kyrgios had easily taken control of every set, breaking Hoang in each of the Frenchman’s opening service games.

极速赛车双面盘Nine aces and 14 winners had carried him to the 35-minute opener, 6-4。

Set two: another nine aces and 15 winners and a 6-2 Kyrgios romp.

In the third, despite twice being broken, Kyrgios served at 4-3 and opened the game with a captivating spectrum. A crisp crosscourt backhand took him to 15-love. An elegantly placed crosscourt forehand volley for 30-love. A 110 mph wide ace. Two points later, up 40-15, Kygrios struck an apparent service winner. The chair umpire called game. But Hoang had issued a challenge, which he won.

Faced now with a second serve instead of a 5-3 lead, Kyrgios opted to voice his anger at the sequence of events with the chair umpire and referee. “You can say ‘game’ and then challenge?” asked Kyrgios. Never mind that in this match, he would win a dazzling 75 percent of his second serve points. Never mind that Kyrgios had thoroughly outclassed Hoang all evening.

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On the ensuing rally, Kyrgios drove a forceful crosscourt backhand。 Hoang could barely get it and it was instantly clear it would not find the court。 As it floated out, Kyrgios yelled, “Wait, hold on,” making sure that he would properly earn the game he thought he’d already won。 In Kyrgios’ mind, justice had been served。 Mild boos ensued。 Said Kyrgios after the match, “I did win the game。 He called game。 My opponent challenged once the umpire called game。 I just thought that wasn't right。”

Even then, as Hoang fought off two match points at 3-5, Kyrgios yelled at himself and towards the player’s box. Seeking to close it out at 5-4, he swiftly went up 30-love, lost a point and again beseeched himself. Finally, at 40-30, the Aussie closed it out with a 131 mph service winner. Of the 79 serves Kyrgios had hit this evening, 39 had been unreturned.

极速赛车双面盘But the more than 8,000 fans who nearly filled the Grandstand this evening hadn’t come to merely observe racquet skills. They knew a volcanic eruption was a possibility. But as Kyrgios’ excellent tennis asserted itself from the start, it became increasingly clear this wasn’t likely to happen. The stands emptied. By the time of Kyrgios’ late and arguably needless tirade, the Grandstand was half full. Does that mean Kyrgios had disappointed the fans?   

Over the last 50 years, men’s tennis has usually featured at least one tortured genius。 Ilie Nastase was the first resident of tennis’ psychotherapy center。 John McEnroe, Boris Becker, the young Andre Agassi and Marat Safin continued the tradition。 Empathic in our eagerness to see genius realized, we seek to understand and explain these anguished souls。 Childhood trauma? Tough love? Hate tennis? Love tennis? Why can’t these skilled man-children simply get on with the business of harnessing their assets and simply win with little fuss? Or are we civilians profoundly ignorant of the incredible demands and pressures that accompany this sport?

My belief is that Kyrgios genuinely loves tennis. Years ago, he built an exceptionally eclectic and effective playing style that blended power, touch, movement and confidence. It’s impossible to imagine someone engaging with the game in such a creative, playful way while simultaneously loathing it.  

Let’s also recall that Kyrgios was once a chubby schoolboy。 He grew into a lean young man。 Does his self-consciousness remain? Kyrgios so wishes to be cool, tries so hard to be indifferent—even downright hostile—to the craft to which he has dedicated himself。 As high up the mountain as he’s been, Kyrgios has touched greatness just often enough to know how good his many peers are。 Besides the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer—each of whom Kyrgios has beaten—there are always those scrappy players like Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori (a combined 9-1 over Kyrgios) keen to grind away。 Who needs that kind of effort? Better to stay cool, constantly undermine one’s ambition and pretend not to care。

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Parallel to psychology is poetry. As I watched Kyrgios this evening, I thought of the poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It was written by T.S. Eliot, a poet often viewed as a titan, the verse equivalent of Kyrgios’ fellow Aussie Rod Laver or, the man Kyrgios reveres, Federer. Just imagine, for example, how Federer would treat a late-match challenge such as the one that so angered Kyrgios this evening; at best, a raised eyebrow.   

Like Kyrgios, Prufrock occupies a world of ambivalence, his heart in sorrow of what his life has become:

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Might that be a way to describe Kyrgios’ interactions with chair umpires? Or could Eliot’s poem offer another avenue? Consider: 

Would it have been worth while,

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

To have squeezed the universe into a ball

Nastase—Kyrgios’ stylistic role model in all his eclectic brilliance—in time embodied these lines:

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

极速赛车双面盘Here, though, a compassionate care for Kyrgios’ soul:

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

The mutter, the smile, the fool, the fear. Our session is over, Mr. Kyrgios. 

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