Malek Jaziri made an honest and revealing confession after his opening round defeat to Pablo Carreno Busta earlier this week at the US Open.
“I need help,” admitted the 34-year-old Tunisian. “That’s the truth. I’ll be honest, I need help. Everyone needs help, whoever tells you they don’t… [is lying].”
After a career-best three-month stretch earlier this season that saw Jaziri get his first two top-10 wins over Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic, reach the Dubai semi-finals and his maiden ATP final in Istanbul, win a Challenge in China and make the French Open second round, the Tunisian has admittedly struggled.
He has won just three of the 13 matches he has contested post-clay season and concedes that mentally things have been rough.
“I’m really playing very well in practice, but I’m not feeling very comfortable during matches,” the world No. 69 told Sport360.
“When you lose a few matches it’s not that easy. The hand is a little bit tight, the serve, when you need the point, it doesn’t come. Physically I think I’m okay, it’s a little bit in the mind and I have to work on that.
“The most important progress to be made is in my mind. If I want to play more, and if I want to play more at a high level, if I want to be top-50 or top-30, I have to improve my mentality.”
The top-ranked Arab added: “This is a really tough sport, to be consistent and to be motivated every day. That’s why I have a lot of respect for players like Rafa [Nadal], all these guys. It’s not easy at all, when you go on court and fight every day like that and your motivation is always high and you want more and more and more, it’s not easy at all.
“Sometimes the body doesn’t want, sometimes mentally, the body doesn’t follow the mind, the mind doesn’t follow the body… all these things come together and sometimes make you a better player.”
Jaziri is open to working with a mental coach because he knows it’s the only way forward.
He has had a few positive days since his loss to Carreno Busta, winning two matches alongside Radu Albot in the US Open doubles draw, including a huge upset over sixth-seeded pair Jean Julien-Rojer and Horia Tecau.
They face the Harrison brothers next.
Still, Jaziri knows he has much to think about. He believes he needs to be more meticulous with his schedule moving forward, as he tries to analyse why he managed to do well at the start of the season and why he’s unable to find that form now.
“I was fresh physically, fresh mentally. I got tired after the clay season. I put myself in this situation as well, played s-Hertogenbosch, maybe I made a mistake with my planning,” he says.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have played a tournament right away. I should’ve rested so I can come back with more motivation. I have to think about my schedule more carefully because if I want to be more for the next few years, managing my schedule will be key.
“Playing less with better quality. In the past I’ve made a lot of mistakes, today I’m still making mistakes, but less. But without mistakes you cannot learn and you cannot improve. Hopefully I don’t repeat these mistakes.”
The good thing is that Jaziri knows he is capable of stepping up. He rose to 47 in the world a year and a half ago and as a late bloomer, he is aware he can always improve, even at 34.
“It’s not like I’m not strong mentally or something, I’ve shown it in the past that I can beat good players, but consistently, mentally, how to find the motivation in every match, how to find the motivation to work more, to exceed yourself. And staying at it when it’s not coming. That’s not easy,” he explains.
“The attitude is the most important thing. I’m working on it but it’s not easy at all. You can speak now, but when you step on court it’s a different story. I want to win for sure these matches, but it’s hard being consistent with your effort and that comes from the mental side.”
The ever-smiling Jaziri has a plan though.
“Keep working, keep playing, keep enjoying. Keep working on the things you have to work on, specifically,” he says.
When Nick Kyrgios was asked to list his greatest strengths, the young Australian took the sarcastic route.
“My unbelievable movement, my returns, and my mental strength,” Kyrgios told reporters at the US Open on Thursday, listing what he knows are his main weaknesses.
A lingering hip injury has troubled Kyrgios all season. To compensate for the bad hip, both his knees have started to hurt, and he says he’s been getting cortisone shots every two days to be able to compete.
While his serve is the most devastating part of his game, he’s only been winning 32 per cent of his return points against the first serve, 51 per cent on the second.
As for his mental strength, his struggles in that department have been well-documented, with the most recent incident taking place on Thursday during his second round against Pierre-Hugues Herbert, where Kyrgios didn’t show up until umpire Mohamed Lahyani got out of his chair and gave him a pep talk, encouraging him to play and avoid tanking. From a set and 0-3 down, Kyrgios rallied and won in four. But the first set and a half were the perfect example of how tough it can be for him sometimes to be present in his matches.
One opponent who always manages to bring the best out in Kyrgios is Roger Federer, and lucky for the US Open crowd, the pair will square off in a mouth-watering third round on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday.
They’ve played each other three times, with eight of the nine sets contested going to a tiebreak. All three encounters finished 7-6 in the third. Saturday will be their first showdown in a best-of-five format, which Kyrgios admits will pose a different kind of challenge.
“We have never played before best-of-five. Yeah, for sure, to win three sets off Federer, you have to play some pretty consistent tennis. But he’s never played me best of five, either,” noted Kyrgios.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun. I definitely know that I won’t be the favourite, the crowd favourite here. I go into that match with zero expectation. I do believe I can beat him. I have done it before. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Kyrgios is one of just two players – alongside his compatriot Lleyton Hewitt – to defeat Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in their first tour-level match-ups.
He admits that being the underdog in these clashes helps, but it’s also evident that they are matches where he tends to try his hardest.
Kyrgios has spent time with Federer off the court promoting the Swiss’ Laver Cup competition. The 23-year-old says Federer’s chip return is his greatest asset and the best that ever existed in the game.
“I think if you took that shot away, he wouldn’t be as good because he neutralises big serves as well. He turns it into pretty much instant offense,” explains Kyrgios.
Federer is well aware of Kyrgios’ exceptional talent and was recently asked by John McEnroe if he felt he was the right person to take the young Aussie aside and “talk some sense into him”.
“That’s what John thought. I think a player can always ask any other player for advice, then it’s the other player’s choice to give advice or not,” said Federer.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be an older guy or anything. It could be just I’m playing Nick tomorrow, I can ask Robin Haase, ‘What do you think about how Nick plays?’ Yesterday I practiced with somebody who asked me, ‘What do you think about my game?’ I give advice.
“I think we do it all the time as players. In Nick’s situation, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m sure he asks around. He’s a clever guy. He knows what he needs to do to get to winning ways. He’s won his two matches here, so things are going well for him. I think it’s more of a hypothetical question which only stirs up stuff that we shouldn’t be talking about.”
Federer is searching for his first US Open crown since 2008, and sixth overall while Kyrgios has never made it past the third round in New York.
The second-seeded Swiss is 2-1 head-to-head against Kyrgios and has been in fine form so far this tournament. He hit a whopping 56 winners in his first round against Yoshihito Nishioka and has spent less than four hours on court through his opening two matches.
Umpire Mohamed Lahyani came under fire on Thursday at the US Open when he left his chair and appeared to be giving Nick Kyrgios a pep talk during the Aussie’s second round win over Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Kyrgios was trailing Herbert 4-6, 0-3 when Lahyani came down from his chair to talk to him.
The Swedish-Moroccan umpire was heard saying words of encouragement to Kyrgios, who eventually asked for the trainer and was attended to the next changeover.
“I want to help you, I want to help you,” Lahyani was overheard telling Kyrgios.
He added: “I’ve seen your matches: you’re great for tennis…
“I know this is not you.”
After the conversation that reached well beyond Lahyani’s officiating role, Kyrgios managed to turn the match around, dropping just six games of the remaining 25 to set up a third round against Roger Federer.
During his on-court interview, Kyrgios was asked about what Lahyani told him during their chat.
“He was just concerned about how I was playing, like, ‘Nick are you okay?'” replied Kyrgios, who has been dealing with a lingering hip issue and told reporters after his first round that he has been getting cortisone shots on his knees every two days.
Didn’t know umpires were allowed to give pep talks .. 🤔 https://t.co/82k0cQvwZM
— Donna Vekic (@DonnaVekic) August 30, 2018
Kyrgios later told reporters in his press conference that he doesn’t consider the conversation with Lahyani to be coaching and that it was simply a warning, similar to ones he has received in the past from other umpires, who wanted him to avoid tanking.
Asked if the chat with Lahyani had any effect on him being able to turn the match around, Kyrgios said: “Not at all. The same thing happen to me, it’s happened in Shanghai before when we all know I had that moment in Shanghai where the referee said the same thing, ‘It’s not good for the integrity of the sport, doesn’t have a good look’.
“It happens in other sports, too. In soccer, if someone is being roughed, they get warned. If you keep doing this you get penalised. Same sort of thing. It had not effect at all.”
Kyrgios added that he didn’t necessarily see it as a pep talk.
“I’m not sure it was encouragement. He said he liked me. I’m not sure if that was encouragement. He just said that it’s not a good look,” he explained. “Look. I wasn’t feeling good. I know what I was doing out there wasn’t good. I wasn’t really listening to him, but I knew it wasn’t a good look. It didn’t help me at all.”
Federer was questioned about the incident in his press conference after he defeated Paire, and was clear in saying it was “not Lahyani’s place” to do what he did.
“It’s not the umpire’s role to go down from the chair. But I get what he was trying to do. He behaves the way he behaves. You as an umpire take a decision on the chair, do you like it or don’t you like it. But you don’t go and speak like that, in my opinion,” said Federer.
“I don’t know what he said. I don’t care what he said. It was not just about How are you feeling? Oh, I’m not feeling so well. Go back up to the chair. He was there for too long. It’s a conversation. Conversations can change your mindset. It can be a physio, a doctor, an umpire for that matter.
“That’s why it won’t happen again. I think everybody knows that.”
This is not the first time Lahyani has attempted to encourage players during his matches.
In Sydney in 2016, he tried to convince Bernard Tomic to focus on his match against Teymuraz Gabashvili after the he admitted he was already looking ahead to the Australian Open since he heard he got a good draw in Melbourne.
In Wimbledon 2014, Lahyani was officiating a match between Gael Monfils and Malek Jaziri in which the former was complaining to his box throughout about not wanting to compete, and voicing his discomfort on grass.
In an attempt to give him a soft warning for tanking, Lahyani kept persuading Monfils to play seriously and the Frenchman eventually won in straight sets.
Asked if he would feel upset if Lahyani ends up getting sanctioned, Kyrgios said: “I don’t believe that he deserves it. I mean, the umpire in Shanghai didn’t cop any backlash. It happened to me in Cincinnati two weeks ago against Del Potro, the exact same thing happened. I wasn’t putting forth my best performance.
“I did the same today. The umpire was like, ‘Nick, you can’t be doing this. It’s a bad look’. Same thing happened there. I’d be disappointed, yeah, for sure.”
Meanwhile, WTA player Donna Vekic saw the video of Lahyani talking to Kyrgios on Thursday, reposted it and said: “Didn’t know umpires were allowed to give pep talks.”
Kyrgios responded to her with a tweet, then deleted it and posted a second one.
If at first you don’t succeed…fail twice. pic.twitter.com/ygqI1vOJqG
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 30, 2018
He then deleted the second tweet and apologised.
I shouldn’t have tweeted so quickly after the match. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but I can assure you it wasn’t coaching. https://t.co/hvlwPyzC0E
— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) August 30, 2018
The USTA released a statement from the tournament referee that described what happened between Lahyani and Kygrios.
“With Kyrgios down 0-3, chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani left his chair to check on the condition of Nick Kyrgios. He came out of the chair because of the noise level in the stadium during the changeover to make sure he could communicate effectively with Kyrgios,” read the statement.
“Lahyani was concerned that Kyrgios might need medical attention. Lahyani told Kyrgios that if he was feeling ill, that the tournament could provide medical help. He also informed Kyrgios that if his seeming lack of interest in the match continued, that as the chair umpire, he would need to take action. He again suggested to Kyrgios that he could receive medical attention. At the next changeover, Kyrgios down 1-4, received treatment from the physio.”
Replayed footage of the physio’s visit to Kyrgios shows the Aussie telling him: “I just called the doctor. Can you just stay out for two minutes. I don’t know, just f****** check my wrist or something? Do you have some salts?”
The physio gave Kyrgios some salt packets and left.
Herbert was understandably disappointed for not maintaining his lead and was asked about Kyrgios’ conversation with Lahyani.
“On court I tried to focus on myself. I just saw that Mohamed went down at the chair. I was a little bit surprised. He went to talk to him. I didn’t listen to what they said because I tried to be focused on me, because it’s not easy to play someone who’s playing, not playing, you don’t know,” said the Frenchman.
“On court, I tried to concentrate on myself. I didn’t see what happened. I just saw that Nick from that point started to playing really, focused, 100 per cent. Yeah, then I saw what happened after the match.”
Herbert blames himself for losing, but also believes Lahyani crossed a line.
He said: “I don’t know what to think. I don’t know if something happened, if Mohamed would have said something or not, it wouldn’t have changed anything. I cannot tell you.
“I just can tell you from that point Nick was playing much better.
“Actually, the umpire doesn’t have to talk to him at all. The only thing he can tell him is, yeah, ‘Pay attention, because if you continue like this, I’m going to give you a warning’, something like this.
“They can tell him from the chair. He doesn’t need to go down. He doesn’t need to say the words he said on the video. I think this was not his job. I don’t think he’s a coach, he’s an umpire, and he should stay on his chair for that.”
Herbert added: “I don’t think he has to go down and take the position of a coach, like you see on the WTA Tour. I don’t know yet if it would have changed something. I just know he doesn’t have to do that.”
I am racking my brain to think of a situation requiring a chair umpire to speak like that to one player.
I umpired thousands of matches
I was ATP head of officiating
I can’t think of one. https://t.co/mq4bbfkVUz
— Richard Ings (@ringsau) August 30, 2018
Asked why he thinks the chair umpire felt the urge to do that, Herbert said: “I think Mohamed, he’s actually a really good umpire. I think he knows everybody. I think he cares for Nick. He cares for the show also because people were going after the first set. Everybody was there for the start. When they saw Nick in a bad mood, I would say, for the first two sets, they started going away.
“I think like everybody, I think Nick today could be an amazing player. Just sometimes he’s mentally, yeah, not here. I don’t know where he was for the first two sets. I know he was on court after when he started playing, when he kicked my ass and was much better than me.”
Meanwhile, Kyrgios is looking forward to a blockbuster third round with Federer.
“I’m going to go out there and compete my ass off,” said the 23-year-old Aussie.