Nick Kyrgios admits he still battles with himself over his true purpose in life despite stepping up mentally on the tennis court this season.
The young Aussie was bounced 6-3, 6-1 by Rafael Nadal in the Madrid Open third round on Thursday in a clash Kyrgios confessed he never expected to win.
The world No20 had displayed some great resolve in his first two matches in the Spanish capital – over Marcos Baghdatis and Ryan Harrison – even though it’s only been two weeks since he lost his grandfather and he didn’t practice in the build-up to the tournament.
Taking out Nadal on his home clay seemed to be a step too far for Kyrgios at the moment though as he was unable to replicate the kind of form that saw him defeat Novak Djokovic twice this season.
“It’s tough. Especially on this surface, I mean, it’s like a mental thing, I guess,” he said of facing Nadal on clay.
“I played him on grass (Kyrgios won their clash at Wimbledon 2014). I feel like that’s where I’m more comfortable. I guess that’s my clay, if you could put it in those words. I felt comfortable when I played him on the grass. Obviously I won there.
“I played him in Rome last year. I lost in three sets. I mean, that’s when I was playing probably some of the best clay court tennis I could ever play.
“I wasn’t expecting to beat him at all tonight, to be honest.”
Kyrgios has expressed in the past that he often struggles to ignite his passion for tennis but he showed a degree of consistency this season that indicated he had perhaps found his love for the game.
After his second match in Madrid, he said his biggest evolution over the past two years was his perspective.
“I thought tennis was the be all and end all in the world. And now it’s just a game we play and there’s a lot of other important things that happen,” he explained.
Asked on Thursday about being a good ambassador for tennis, Kyrgios said: “I’m still learning to be a good ambassador. I don’t think I’m a great ambassador yet. Roger (Federer), Rafa (Nadal), you look at those guys, they’re great ambassadors. I don’t know if you could call me an ambassador.”
Is that something he aspires to be though?
“I guess I don’t know if at the end of the day I want to be remembered as a great tennis player. I’d like to be someone remembered that did something for a greater cause than being just a good tennis player,” Kyrgios conceded.
“That’s something I battled with. Last year I didn’t really know what I wanted out of the sport. Some days I didn’t want to play. I think I’m trying to battle with that now. I think I’m doing a good job. I think this year I’ve kind of pulled it together mentally.
“But I don’t know. I still don’t know what I want to do. There was a point in time where if you said if I could win a Grand Slam tomorrow, that wouldn’t excite me. I’m just – I don’t know.”
The 22-year-old showed brief flashes of brilliance against Nadal but otherwise looked down on himself and lost on the court. He seemed to also be struggling with a hip problem.
“I guess I was a bit flat. I think I’m just a bit under-done. I haven’t been training very much,” he revealed.
“You know, went from playing unbelievable tennis in Indian Wells and Miami, and then Davis Cup, then I kind of just went back home and had a rest. We see everything at home happened (his grandfather’s passing). I mean, I just haven’t been in the general gist of being a tennis player. I haven’t been training. I’ve just been doing nothing really.”
Kyrgios, who is a divisive figure in tennis, was met with some boos and whistles from the Madrid towards the end of the match, which lasted just 72 minutes. It is something he has grown accustomed to.
“I don’t really care. I get it everywhere, even if I play good. If I play 6 in the third with Federer in Miami, I still get booed off the court. So whatever,” he said.