Will 2018 finally be the year when Nick Kyrgios fulfills his immense potential?
There is no doubting the 22-year-old’s talent but his temperament, on-and-off-court behaviour and, at times, lack of effort on the tennis court have raised question marks over his desire to win majors.
Here, ahead of the Australian Open, our two writers assess the Australian and whether we will see a major breakthrough from him over the next few months.
MATT MONAGHAN, SAYS YES:
After finally appearing to win the grand battle against his mental demons, Nick Kyrgios is poised to conquer the men’s game.
The enfant terrible turned into celebrated ATP World Tour winner for the first time in the early weeks of 2018, valiant victory at the Brisbane International providing a springboard to the sport’s grandest titles. An easy mistake is to purely concentrate on his homecoming at the Australian Open, beginning on Monday against Brazil’s Rogerio Dutra Silva.
Yet even if this symbolic chance on home court slips by, promising signs point to a creditable Grand Slam-challenger emerging from his cocoon.
At a time when countryman Bernard Tomic’s descent is speeding up and all that’s left is to “count money”, Kyrgios is moving just as rapidly in the other direction – his current ranking of 17 is his highest since August.
The truculent figure who has openly admitted to ‘tanking’ – deliberately not playing to his abilities – up to eight times in his troubled past is just an awkward memory.
Redemptive lessons have, belatedly, been learned from October’s first-round withdrawal at the Shanghai Masters and frank admission about his – then – shoddy dedication in the wake of an early exit at the US Open.
An inner steel has been applied to match the aggressive, hard-serving game – perfect for Wimbledon and Australia, where he made the last eight in 2014 and 2015 – which should be the backbone of many Slam challenges. In Brisbane, he battled back from sets down in both the quarter and semi-finals before breezing past Ryan Harrison 6-4, 6-2 at a moment of expectation.
In his troubled past, the bright lights would have led to an incendiary explosion. Not now, aged 22.
Kyrgios did not come close to challenge for a Grand Slam last year, but the field has never been more open.
Andy Murray is waylaid, Novak Djokovic unsure. Fitness can appear fleeting for Rafael Nadal, while Roger Federer’s Indian summer cannot last forever.
The sun is setting on a golden generation. It is Kyrgios’ time to shine.
CHRIS BAILEY, SAYS NO
Nick Kyrgios has given us fresh hope many times before – don’t let him do it again.
The Australian is a talent of such scarcity that, regardless of whether his head is fully screwed on, he will have his fair share of fine weeks and tournaments.
The singularly impressive element of his run to the Brisbane International final was how he bounced back from conceding the first set to Matthew Ebden, Andrey Dolgopolov and Grigor Dimitrov.
But you get the feeling that just as the sun and moon align once in a while, it will take some doing for Kyrgios to eclipse his victory in Brisbane this year.
He straddles a wafer-thin line between genius and implosion every time he steps onto the court – expecting him to keep himself on the right side for two weeks and seven potential five-setters is fanciful.
We saw just the hint of his rashness in the Brisbane final against Ryan Harrison. Kyrgios, quite rightly, complained to the umpire about Harrison’s lengthy toilet break between sets. But the way he kept bludgeoning his point, without a filter, further underlined his tendency to let rather irrelevant things weigh on his mind.
This is also the man – and at 22, he must be considered a fully-fledged one – who questioned his own commitment to tennis after crashing out in the first round of his last major to John Millman, the then world No. 235.
“I played an hour of basketball before I played David Ferrer in the semi-final. I was going to ice cream, getting a milkshake every day,” he said after his US Open exit. “I was less dedicated. And this week I was dedicated, and my shoulder starts hurting. I don’t know.”
Has he really changed his attitude around in less than six months? Or has he just decided to like tennis again because he’s in a purple patch?
He’d headed to the US Open in fine fettle, too, having reached the final of Cincinnati. Yet 2017 went in the books as the year he won just two matches in the four Grand Slams.
This is the time for the new generation to knock the Rogers and Rafas of the men’s tennis scene off their thrones, but Kyrgios will find a way to trip up on the palace steps.
Unbeaten in his three singles matches in the tournament prior to the final as he prepared for his Australian Open title defence, the 19-time Grand Slam champion dropped the first set against Zverev, but recovered to win in three sets, 6-7 (4), 6-0, 6-2.
It gave Switzerland a 1-0 lead in the final, with Federer aiming to add to the title he won in Perth with Martina Hingis in 2001.
Just wow from Kerber. Got the break back in the first set and never looked back. Defeats Bencic 6-4, 6-1 to level the final 1-1 for Germany against Switzerland. Down to the mixed doubles now #hopmancup pic.twitter.com/leied42LNK
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 6, 2018
Zverev came out all guns blazing in a high-intensity first set where both players produced moments of brilliance, with both holding multiple break points.
However, the young German managed to prevail in the tie-breaker as he aimed to repeat his singles win over Federer at the Hopman Cup last year, when all three sets were decided by tie-breakers.
Federer’s frustration was obvious, dropping his racquet after missing an easy volley and then launching a ball towards the roof.
However, it soon passed as he started to blunt the German’s power and his superior court craft turned the momentum.
Federer took pace off his shots and used the drop shot repeatedly to catch Zverev out, racing through the second set.
The German was the one who lost his cool as the match slipped away, copping a code violation for an audible obscenity after disputing the chair umpire’s decision to replay a Zverev serve in the second set.
Zverev’s serve, and resolve, was broken in the third game of the third set and fittingly it was a Federer drop shot which sealed the win.
“I played great throughout the three sets and Sascha probably dropped his level a little bit in the second and third sets,” he said.
“I was able to put Switzerland ahead so I am very happy.”
Top seed and defending champion Grigor Dimitrov moved into the semi-finals of the season-opening Brisbane International after seeing off a brave challenge from an injured Kyle Edmund on Friday.
Dimitrov was on court for almost two-and-a-half hours before finally subduing the British number two, who was right in the contest until he hurt his ankle with the score at 4-4 in the third set.
Edmund was wrong-footed on the baseline and collapsed to the ground with a scream of pain after turning his ankle.
While the crowd held their breath, fearing the 22-year-old Englishman had done some major damage, Dimitrov hurdled the net and ran to his opponent, eventually helping him hobble off court.
But after having his ankle strapped the Englishman was able to carry on, although his movement appeared restricted.
Dimitrov held his serve to go to 5-4 and then broke Edmund to seal the win 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 6-4.
“At the end of the day, health above all,” Dimitrov said immediately afterwards.
“It’s very unfortunate what happened, for sure. I’ve seen this too many times, I know the feeling. I really hope he gets better.”
“I knew the last two games he wasn’t at his best so I just had to find a way again,” Dimitrov added.
— Rena (@_irenka23_) January 5, 2018
Edmund’s injury comes days after British men’s number one Andy Murray pulled out of the Australian Open due to his ongoing hip injury and women’s number one Johanna Konta retired in her Brisbane quarter-final, also with a hip problem.
Dimitrov will now play mercurial Australian Nick Kyrgios in a blockbuster semi-final.
Earlier in the day Kyrgios came back from losing the first set to defeat former finalist Alexandr Dolgopolov 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The Australian number one admitted he was flat at the start of the match before switching on at the start of the second set.
“Obviously, today, I started pretty poorly — no energy in the first set — but I always knew that I was going to come through,” he said.
“I played some pretty good tennis in the second and third sets. That’s just me, I guess. Very unpredictable. I don’t really know how I’m going to come out.
“As bad as it is to say, it’s kind of like a tap. I can turn it on when I want to and turn it off.”
The second semi-final will be between Australian wildcard Alex de Minaur and American Ryan Harrison.
The 18-year-old de Minaur stunned fourth seed Milos Raonic in the second round and there was no letdown Friday as he ousted US qualifier Michael Mmoh 6-4, 6-0 to reach his first ATP semi-final.
Harrison moved through when his opponent, Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin, retired due to a left hip injury with the American leading 7-6 (8/6), 4-2.