By Erik Gudris | Thursday, July 1, 2021
Nick Kyrgios is perhaps the one player who continues to face “love him or hate him” status.
Now the mercurial Australian star finds himself in the third round of this year’s Wimbledon. Yet the opinionated Kyrgios is already making headlines for his off-court comments just as much for his play on the famed green lawns.
Kyrgios reached the third round with a solid 7-6(7), 6-4, 6-4 win over Italy’s Gianluca Mager. Kyrgios’ victory included the Aussie going into the crowd and asking a spectator on how he should serve while at match point. Kyrgios won the point and the match, which prompted him to deliver a ball to the fan as a way of saying thanks.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 1, 2021
Kyrgios is used to the fans who come to his matches wanting more than just to watch him hit the ball.
“I feel like when they come to my matches now, they know how I am. I’m quite lighthearted. Yeah, they know it’s a bit of a show. They just want entertainment at the end of the day. Like a couple screaming out asking normal questions about Tottenham Hotspur. It’s a bit odd. It’s crazy out there.”
That kind of fan interactivity is nothing new for Kyrgios. But it again invites dialogue on if Kyrgios, with all of his natural talent, is interested in being just a showman, or if he’s truly invested in being a true contender for a Grand Slam title.
The answer is, well, perhaps a bit of both.
Kyrgios, currently ranked No. 60 in the world, chose not to play after this year’s Australian Open with the current pandemic still an issue. He made a special exception for Wimbledon, because, well it’s Wimbledon. Kyrgios announced himself on the world stage at Wimbledon in 2014 when he defeated Rafael Nadal in the fourth round to reach the quarterfinals. While Kyrgios reached the last eight at the Australian Open in 2015, he has yet to reach that same round since at any of the majors.
The now 26-year-old Kyrgios knows about all the criticism written about him that he should conform to whatever the current standards are, as that will help him achieve more on the tennis court. But, Kyrgios is not interested in being anyone but himself. “I feel like it’s the culture of the sport. It’s very clean, very clean-cut. You get told to play a certain way. I got told to play a certain way. I got told to play like Diego Schwartzman when I was young. Cross-court, be disciplined, don’t change direction too much. Maybe don’t hit a big second serve there, that’s a bad drop shot. It’s like, dude. You have guys like (Alexander) Bublik and myself having success on the tour, being quality players, playing the way we play, and it’s entertainment.”
Kyrgios, known for making unconventional shots during his matches, feels he’s earned more undue criticism than praise, especially when other players make the same shots in their matches.
“I still think tennis especially locks in these types of players that have so much to give to the sport. It happened for the first three, four years of my career. I was crucified for doing anything out of the ordinary, out of the box, talking to the crowd, hitting between my legs, underarm serve. The biggest example is when I hit an underarm serve against Rafa (Nadal) in Acapulco. It was like, Disgraced the game, he has no respect for the sport. He’s a disgrace. Then you have people like Kei Nishikori hitting underarm serves. It’s like, Oh, he’s so tactically switched on.”
Achieving greatness at the Grand Slams is not a prime priority for Kyrgios now. His focus remains on just enjoying himself and his time on the court.
“I just don’t put that much pressure on myself any more. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with not winning Grand Slams. I know that’s going to make a lot of people angry. He should be doing this. But I shouldn’t, though. It’s not your life, it’s mine. I’m okay with just enjoying myself, putting on a show. Not everyone can be a Federer or Djokovic.
“These are, like, once-in-a-decade athletes that, like, inspire millions of people. Like, they’re just gods. I see them as that, too. You have to have some people, I believe, that are relatable, that people can bring other fans to watch, like people that are just normal. I feel like I’m one of those people. Not everyone can be a Federer, a Djokovic or a Nadal.
“I’m Nick Kyrgios. I know who I am.”
Kyrgios faces No. 16 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada in the next round.
Photo credit: Getty