September 22, 2023

Open Court


Vid: Desert days for Nick Kyrgios

MIAMI, Fla. – Nick Kyrgios’s Miami Open ended Tuesday night, with a 6-4, 6-4, fourth-round loss to No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev that had it all.

It was frustrating. And perplexing. Also, annoying. And don’t forget exciting. However, the ears of anyone sitting courtside probably are still ringing from Kyrgios’s use of that word that begins with the sixth letter of the alphabet.

The Aussie defeated Dusan Lajovic and No. 22 seed Fabio Fognini in straight sets before the Zverev match.

But in prime time, against another young gun, he was extremely annoyed at his camp, at himself, and at a back that troubled him early on. At 2-5 in the first set, it didn’t appear as though he would even finish the match; he had called for the physio to come out at set’s end.

And then he went out and broke Zverev to make it close, which then nullified the invitation.

And then, it seemed (we can only guess), the back loosened up and the match had more than a few exciting moments.

Considering that just a week before the tournament began, Kyrgios wasn’t even serving, and wasn’t even hitting many tennis balls, it was a surprising result overall. 

(Screenshot: TennisTV)

Keeping busy in the desert

What do you do when you’re at a tournament site, and you can’t play a tournament?

You find ways to keep busy.

Kyrgios arrived in Indian Wells at the end of February, as girlfriend Ajla Tomljanovic was playing in the WTA 125K Challenger at the same site the week before the main event.

He was supposed to be resting, not hitting tennis balls – although he did sneak out a few times and hit a few, even if he didn’t serve. (Does ping pong count?)


No doubt he was hoping to play the BNP Paribas Open, without much conviction that he would be able to because of his elbow issue.

So, what to do?

One day, when Tomljanovic was about to take the court to play Viktorija Golubic in the quarterfinals of the Challenger, a full-speed Kyrgios nearly ran down your Tennis.Life correspondent trying to get to the court.

The match was about to begin, and Kyrgios didn’t dare be late.

We’re told he had also been watching her opponents’ matches, doing some advance scouting – and even … taking notes.

He made it. And throughout the 6-3, 6-3 win, he didn’t miss a ball being struck. No texting or other phone work except on changeovers. No distractions when friends Matt Reid and Liam Broady dropped by for a bit.

Total focus.

Practice, as the match plays on

A week later, after he had pulled out of the BNP Paribas Open, Kyrgios had a light hit.

Ironically, the match he was to have played – a second-rounder against Daniil Medvedev – was being contested right behind his practice court, on Stadium 5.

Except it was lucky loser Matteo Berrettini playing it, not Kyrgios.

Who knows if Kyrgios was even aware. But the sound of the scoring, juxtaposed with Kyrgios having an easy hit, was symbolic of … something.

Last Nick hit before Miami

At the end of his time in the desert, Kyrgios had one last practice. Thanasi Kokkinakis was there, along with Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt.

At this point in the tournament the crowds thin out quite a bit outside the main stadium.

But look at the people watching this practice. And Kokkinakis and Kyrgios were not above a bit of crowd-pleasing.

And at the end, they made a whole lot of people go home happy – including one little girl who was flabbergasted by a surprise gift.

And that’s the Kyrgios conundrum.

Polarizing figure

There’s that faction that get offended at everything he does, pretty much. And probably always will.

There’s the faction that’s personally offended by seeing a man born with such a unique gift fail to maximize it, and sometimes not even appear to take it seriously. As if that’s a duty, a responsibility.

And then there are those who see his small kindnesses, how good he is with the kids. They see the player who took the time to make the kids from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tennis teams feel awfully good.

They see how open he is with his emotions, and it strikes a chord that you struggle to find with many modern professional athletes, who strive to have a poker face, stay in their bubble, and try not to let the big crowds in – not even a little bit.

Despite not having played since Davis Cup seven weeks before, match- and practice-shy and still nursing his elbow, Kyrgios came to Miami to give it a shot. And he won two matches against solid opponents in impressive fashion.

Young guns meet

And then, the payoff – a high-profile match against another young player. These two, if things break right, will be battling for big titles for the next decade. 

(Screenshot: TennisTV)

The future was on display, just as it had been earlier in the day when Borna Coric and Denis Shapovalov went toe-to-toe in a dramatic, full-effort match won by the more experienced of the two.

But sometimes, especially when he doesn’t feel prepared or confident, you get … what you got Tuesday night against Zverev.

Kyrgios kind of ran the gamut there – from thinking about giving up early on as his back was bothering him, to giving it his all, to trying to find things to pump himself up. To dropping a bushel of F-bombs.

Zverev didn’t seem to mind overmuch. He got a kick out of some of it. And he admirably kept his focus even when it seemed everyone else’s focus was on what Kyrgios might do next.

And, in the end, he advanced to the quarterfinals.

So another Kyrgios experience is in the books. 

We’ll see what happens in Estoril, Portugal, which is the next scheduled stop on the Kyrgios Road Show.

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