17-time major winner Roger Federer believes the 21-year-old doesn’t have what it takes to win a Grand Slam crown just yet, but the Swiss admitted he’d be happy to be proved wrong.
Federer, who has previously trained with the controversial Canberra-born star in Dubai, faced similar issues with on-court behaviour during his early 20s.
And ahead of the Australian Open, can Kyrgios answer his critics and win a maiden major title on home soil?
Let us know your thoughts as our two writers debate his future.
Reem Abulleil, News Editor and Tennis reporter, SAYS YES
In this current era of men’s tennis, winning a grand slam has seemingly become this exclusive right reserved only for a handful of players.
Initially a ‘Big Four’ honour that widened its acceptance list to include Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka, the grand slam club has been near-impossible to rattle.
So it’s understandable when people say a talent like Nick Kyrgios is not ready to win a major yet, simply because barely anyone has managed to snatch one from the Big Four’s teeth since mid-2005, barring the two mentioned above.
But the way I see it, Kyrgios is not your typical player and he does not fit in any specific mould.
This is a guy who reached the quarterfinals on his Wimbledon debut in 2014, beating the then-world No1 Rafael Nadal, as an 18-year-old ranked No144 in the world. He’s also the guy who came back from two sets down to defeat Andreas Seppi, who had beaten Roger Federer in the previous round, to reach a second major quarter-final only six months later.
”But I'm happy if he proves me wrong” https://t.co/Ft9tK2broe— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 15, 2017
At 21, he is ranked No13 in the world and owns 10 victories over top-10 players including Federer, Nadal, Wawrinka and Milos Raonic.
It’s true that his temperament has failed him so far in some majors, particularly his fourth round against Andy Murray at Wimbledon last year, where Kyrgios simply didn’t turn up, but contrary to popular belief, the Aussie has been improving on the mental front – his tank job in Shanghai being the exception rather the rule if you look at his 2016 as a whole. People didn’t think he was ready to win a title up until last year. What did he do? He won three in nine months.
While winning seven best-of-five matches over two weeks remains a monster task, if the draw opens up for him, Kyrgios, buoyed by his home crowd, can cause a surprise. After all, who thought Cilic could pull it off when he shocked the field to win the US Open in 2014?
If Kyrgios’ knee holds up, and he is in a serving groove, then he can be a nightmare opponent for most of the field – although Murray remains to be his Achilles’ heel and he has never faced Novak Djokovic before.
Kyrgios is a guy who takes pleasure in proving people wrong and no doubt Federer’s comments will motivate him even more. Is he going to win the Australian Open? Maybe yes, maybe no. But that doesn’t mean he’s not ready for it.
Stuart Appleby, Online and Video Journalist, SAYS NO
If I was Nick Kyrgios, I’d pin Roger Federer’s comments up on my bedroom wall, store them somewhere in my suitcase and have them as my wallpaper/constant memo reminder on my phone.
Being told you’re not ready to win a major…yet…by one of the best players of all time…is surely a great, New Year motivational gift by the Swiss.
It’s one the Canberra-native should be grateful for. Federer’s comments are right but he’s not completely dismissed any future grand slam hopes, he’s merely laid down a gauntlet of sorts. Kyrgios should go out to prove Federer wrong and use it as a spur for the future. I’m sure Roger will be the first to congratulate him and invite him out for dinner if he does.
Let’s be frank, though – Kyrgios isn’t going to win the Australian Open or a major anytime soon in my book.
Having a character like him in the game is great, for there are too many robotic, media-trained players now for my liking.
But, for all his off-court problems, fines and outbursts, I don’t think the 21-year-old has shown any solid evidence yet that he’s harnessed the negative stuff to help him produce on the court. Is he ready to improve on his best grand slam showings so far (two quarter-finals at Wimbledon and Melbourne)? I don’t think so.
The Australian, to me, still feels like a ‘stopper’ – a term Jimmy Connors has used down the years to describe a player, who on their day, can blow anyone off the court. But they tend to follow that up with a below-par showing.
Lukas Rosol and Sergiy Stakhovsky (sorry guys) always jump into my head when I write about this.
Kyrgios can be and is so much better than these types, though.
What’s interesting is that the Aussie and Federer, in their early 20s, were both similar.
Although Fed’s outbursts and smashed racquets didn’t extend to any controversy outside the court like Kyrgios’ have, the talent both players possessed at a relatively young age was there for all to see. Federer managed to harness it and get his game together at a crucial time, winning Wimbledon as a 22-year-old in 2003. Kyrgios has to do the same, but get his act together urgently.
He needs to ask himself ‘What do I actually want from my career and do I want it enough?’ If the answer to both those questions is positive, he should drop Roger a Whatsapp, quickly.
Well, the Australian Open is not far away and the players are already up and running.
Watch Tennis legends Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and others take part in a 30-second knockout challenge, where they knock down tennis ball cans and shoot balls into tiny baskets.
Looks like the clock is their biggest enemy as of now!
Which player were you most impressed with?
Watch the video for more.
He has got used to it by now. Every time Radek Stepanek goes deep in a tournament or wins a match at a grand slam, a headline pops up somewhere declaring him the “oldest player since Jimmy Connors” to have achieved that feat.
At 38, the Czech veteran’s age has been raising more eyebrows than his unique style of play that took him to as high as No8 in the world over a decade ago.
Stepanek played his first professional match in 1995 and his first full year was in 1998.
This month, he started his 20th season on tour, which he kicked off by reaching the Qatar Open singles quarter-finals as a qualifier and taking the runner-up trophy in doubles alongside his new partner Vasek Pospisil last week.
His run to the last-eight in Doha made him the oldest quarter-finalist at an ATP tournament since, of course, Jimmy Connors in 1995.
Stepanek, ranked No102 at the moment, is the top seed in the Australian Open qualifying event, which began in Melbourne on Wednesday.
Should he secure a spot in the main draw, he’d be the oldest player in the field, and closing in on another Connors age record.
“It seems like I’ll be fighting Jimmy Connors on a couple of ends to change the history a bit,” a smiling Stepanek told Sport360 on the sidelines of the Qatar Open.
But how does he find it in himself to fight through qualifying rounds at tournaments and even slum it on the Challenger tour after all this time, and having tasted life on the higher end of the spectrum?
“I know where I came from. I came from playing a lot of qualifying rounds at tournaments when I got to the top-100 for the first time so I always did it the hard way,” explains Stepanek.
“Even when I got to the top-10 in the world I got injured for six months, I didn’t play since Wimbledon until the end of the year, when I was No5 in the race and playing maybe my best tennis but that’s life.
“I’m taking life as it comes and I always want to fight the situation the best I can and I think I’ve always been humble enough to realise where I’m standing and it never took me down, even when I dropped to 400 or 500 in the rankings. I knew that the only way I can get up there again is hard work and patience and that’s what’s paying off. I’ve done it all, I’ve been through ups and downs in my career so I know both ends and I think that makes it easier for me mentally.”
While being this fit and competitive at his age is highly impressive, there are many more intriguing things about the popular Czech.
His cunning style on court sees him swiftly alternate between serve-and-volley and baseline play on demand. His game is not based on power but he can keep up with the big-hitters and trouble the top guns with his deft touches. Last year, he was two points away from defeating Andy Murray at Roland Garros before he fell to the Scot in five sets.
His fashion sense involves dramatic shirts that can be emblazoned with anything from massive golden-tongued lions to oversized images of a New York skyline.
His on-court celebrations can range from skipping around in funny, robotic-like leaps, to doing the ‘worm’ in an ode to the 1980s funk period.
His off-court romances included relationships with WTA players, Martina Hingis, Petra Kvitova and Nicole Vaidisova, whom he used to be married to.
And he struck up an unlikely friendship with 21-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios, who said he would like to be coached by Stepanek one day.
Leave it to Stepanek to get someone like Kyrgios – who once said the reason he has no coach is because he would struggle to find a mentor who would accept his erratic behaviour and mood swings – to actually want to listen to him.
“It came very naturally and unexpectedly,” Stepanek said of his friendship with Kyrgios.
“I think Nick has great potential to be the best player in the world. He’s proving that in a couple of matches throughout the season, even his titles in 2016. He has his downs as well and I believe that if he cuts off his downs and mentally will get on the right track, without his loops, then he can be really the one who can attack the top guys.
“When we got on the court in Miami, I had a couple of quotes (words) to him, because we practiced and he was smashing racquets, shooting balls out of the court. I said ‘you know what man? You see that plane up there? The next one is yours. Pack yourself and rather take a plane and don’t bother everyone with this. Everybody came here to support you, to do everything for you and you’re wasting it. So if you want to play basketball, the plane is there, go home and play basketball’.
“Since then we started to talk a little bit to each other. Obviously I feel his interest, he told the press that he would like me to be his coach which is very nice to hear from such a player.
“It’s not the time for it, I’m still on the other side of the court and the one who wants to beat him, the same way as he wants to beat me. But we have a great relationship. He’s a great, funny guy and I have full belief that he can get there.”
It appears that Stepanek’s love for the sport knows no bounds. As we chat in the lounge inside the media centre in Doha, the five-time ATP titlist could not keep his eyes off of the TV screen behind me that was showing an Andy Murray match. He would get distracted mid-sentence to follow a specific point and he laughed when I asked if he ever switched off from tennis.
“I do switch off but now I know that it’s a very important part of the match and it’s just automatic,” he replied.
In his one week in Doha, Stepanek played nine matches in both singles and doubles and won seven of them. Does he treat both disciplines of the game with equal regard?
“I always say that winning never gets old. When I go in a match, I’m going with the same attitude in singles and in doubles. For me, neither competition is a bonus. It’s what I love to do and I’m trying to be successful on both ends. I’m really happy, as all of you are asking me about my age for the last three or four years, it’s just that I’m paying big attention to my body and I’m spending a lot of time off the court taking care of that,” he says.
Stepanek has had the same conditioning coach for the past 15 years, and his focus on recovery has helped him stay fit while knocking on the door of 40.
In his mind, he has no expiration date.
Smile is on my face but the WIN is in @djokernole pocket😅. Congrtas my friend and cant wait for another battle😜✌🏻/ Sice mam usmev na rtu ale VYHRU ma v kapse Novak😅. Gratuluju a nemuzu se uz ted dockat dalsi bitvy , tyhle zapasy me vzdy motivuji pracovat jeste tvrdeji a zlepsovat se😜✌🏻#Doha#Exxonmobilopen2017#Battle#Windy#Sandy#FunMoments#BrothersInArms#Friendship#Respect#Inspirationu
“I always said that I don’t see the finish line. The finish line comes either if my body says no more or I wake up in the morning and I feel that I don’t want to go and practice and do the stuff I love to do. Those will be the two moments when I’ll be done. I’m not thinking of it, I’m not seeing it, when it comes, it comes,” he insists.
“I see the guys around me here still playing, like (Daniel) Nestor, (Leander) Paes, they’re 44, 42, and they are still doing well in doubles. And here I am at 38 and still kicking in singles and that for me is a huge motivation to keep going.”
During the two decades he has been playing the sport, so much has changed including court speed, balls, equipment, and technology. Stepanek has managed to adapt to it all. He now finds himself across the net quite often against players half his age, twice his size, and with superior power.
“It happened to me in Tokyo, I played qualies on the first day, I played a guy who was 17 and the next day I played a guy who was 18 and then we played the same guys in the doubles first round, they didn’t even put together my age, so that was quite funny,” he says with a chuckle.
“Obviously it’s already the second or third generation I’m seeing on the tennis court. So definitely it’s a new chapter again, new guys, fresh blood for the tour and it’s great to see them coming up.”