There are few, if any, players as divisive in the men’s game as Nick Kyrgios. And it’s not hard to understand why. When the Australian wants to be, he is one of the most gifted and entertaining players on the ATP tour. He plays in the spirit of Dustin Brown and Gael Monfils, but with arguably more upside than either thanks to his pinpoint serve and powerful, yet versatile forehand. It’s the sort of tennis that took him to a thrilling four-set win over Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon five years ago and two ATP 500 titles this year in Acapulco and Mexico.
But Kyrgios can also be frustrating, even to his most ardent defenders. After his win in Acapulco, Kyrgios was expected to make his mark in Indian Wells. Instead, he delivered a flat performance, during which he imitated Roger Federer’s service motion, to lose in the second round to Philipp Kohlschreiber. He has also vocally criticised both Novak Djokovic and Nadal this year, seemingly without regard to the respect he owes them as his colleagues, nevermind as great champions.
This week, though he displayed plenty of grit as well as flair on his way to winning the Washington Open, there were also some less impressive moments. In the second round, he railed against a line call before refusing to shake umpire Fergus Murphy’s hand. In the second set of his semifinal against Stefanos Tsitsipas, which he lost from a break up, his composure abandoned him completely as he threw his racquet around the court, for which he received a point penalty, and swore at the crowd.
The stage is set then for another round of the ‘is Nick Kyrgios good for the sport debate’. But like so many of tennis’ great debates, it is pointless because it is fundamentally unresolvable. Kyrgios has been on tour for long enough now that he is unlikely to significantly alter the way he approaches his career. A career, which is often overlooked, has been a fairly successful one, in which he has won six titles and climbed as high as 13th in the world rankings.
It is undeniably true that he might have accomplished more, but the same could be said of countless players across both tours. If there is one thing that is certainly true, Kyrgios does not owe anyone but himself success and if winning Grand Slams and maintaining a top-ten ranking is not something that motivates him, then that is his own affair.
Which is not to say that the Australian should be given carte blanche to behave how he pleases. When he is on court, he owes it to the spectators who, in effect, pay his not insignificant salary to compete to the best of his ability. When he crosses the lines of acceptable behaviour, as he did most egregiously when he insulted Stan Wawrinka’s then partner Donna Vekic, he deserves to be censured, just as anyone who behaved in that manner, whether a professional tennis player or no, would be. When he calls Djokovic fake and Nadal salty, their fans have every right to be angered.
But ultimately, what insight does any of this provide as to whether or not Kyrgios is good for the game? It is, for one thing, a question that means very different things to different people. The sport does not belong to any one person or group. Some people will inevitably enjoy the larger-than-life antics of Kyrgios and forgive him his misbehaviour as a result. Others will find those indiscretions distasteful and discount the Australian’s qualities because of it.
And all the while, the debate will continue, with Kyrgios’ personality and motivations dissected and examined. Perhaps one day, that will yield some sort of real insight into the man behind the brilliance and the tantrums. But it seems unlikely and even if it did, it would not change anything. Kyrgios would likely still divide opinion, still show flashes of brilliance and still lose inexplicably. So wouldn’t it be better to just forget it all. To let Kyrgios play when he will and lose when he won’t. Because, realistically, that is the only conclusion on offer.
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