Much like the tweener, Kyrgios is not every tennis fan’s cup of tea.
There is little debate, however, about his status as one of the most talented athletes to ever wield a racket — a guy who could have excelled in basketball, soccer, track or almost any sport to which he applied himself. It is an open question, though, whether Kyrgios, at 27, has ever fully applied himself to tennis.
It is also an open question whether Kyrgios, who is coming off a career-best Grand Slam performance by reaching Wimbledon’s final last month, is good or bad for the game.
To Ken Solomon, chairman and CEO of Tennis Channel, there is zero doubt.
“From a television perspective and a commerce perspective, Nick Kyrgios has been ‘Box Office,’ as we call it, since Day 1 on television,” Solomon said in a recent interview. “Period. End of story. Full exclamation point.”
That’s Patrick McEnroe’s view, too, as an ESPN analyst who saw the impact on viewership throughout Kyrgios’s march to the Wimbledon final, in which the former teen phenom outplayed defending champion Novak Djokovic at the outset before succumbing in four sets.
“There is no doubt that Nick Kyrgios moves the needle when it comes to TV ratings and when it comes to fans,” McEnroe said. “There is even less doubt that young kids all like to watch him. They like his underhand serve, they like his banter with the crowd, they like his tweeners — not to mention, he is a hell of a player.”
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At Washington’s Citi Open, Kyrgios is the player many fans have paid to see. This summer, he’s giving them double value, competing in doubles with American Jack Sock — the duo won their first-round match Monday — and in singles.
Kyrgios was greeted with cheers when he stepped onto Stadium Court at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center on Tuesday night. As the tournament’s 2019 champion, Kyrgios has his name displayed on the blue banner of past victors that rings around the court, putting him in the company of such greats as Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick.
With his trademark backward baseball cap, Kyrgios got to work quickly against American Marcos Giron, 29, needing just 59 minutes to dispatch the 2014 NCAA champion, 6-3, 6-2.
He blasted just one ball in frustration midway through the first set but otherwise charmed the crowd from start to finish, attempting a tweener and, on match point, walking over to a woman in the front row and asking what sort of serve he should attempt.
“I think it’s just a cool experience for someone that’s paid money to come watch you play and potentially to go home with that memory, if it’s a young kid or an older lady like today,” said Kyrgios, who did the same thing during his run to the 2019 title in Washington. “I wish I had that experience when I was watching tennis matches.”
There are multiple facets to Kyrgios’s personality, on the court and off it.
His serve is his greatest asset as a player, powerful and unpredictable. It might speed past in a 140-mph blur, on first and second attempts alike. It could also be a puffball delivered underhanded that plops just beyond the net. Against Giron, it was masterful — Kyrgios finished with 13 aces.
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Kyrgios’s ground game can be devilish in its variety: line-tagging blasts, slices, drop-shots and whatever improvisation comes to mind. While he’s a shrewd analyst of the game, he often balks at playing percentages, as if compelled to try the highest risk shot at the most critical juncture. If that aggravates opponents who thrive on consistency and rhythm, so much the better.
While Kyrgios’s penchant for pushing the sport’s boundaries delights some fans, others feel he crosses the line too often.
He has been fined more than $500,000 over his career for virtually every conceivable offense in tennis, including verbal abuse of an umpire, smashing rackets, pantomiming a sexual act with a water bottle, not giving full effort and, at Wimbledon last month, spitting in the direction of a fan shouting an audible obscenity.
“What rankles people like me and my brother [seven-time Grand Slam champion John McEnroe], and even the Australian greats, is that this guy just doesn’t put forth a full-on effort every time he goes out there,” McEnroe said. “And he doesn’t seem to care; at least, that’s what he says. But he is a complicated guy. … It’s a bad look for professional tennis or professional anything, to be honest.”
Kyrgios also has a court date in Canberra, Australia, later this month to face a charge of common assault for allegedly grabbing a former girlfriend in an incident that was reported to police in December. Asked Tuesday about the pending proceedings, he said others were handling the legal matters, which he described as out of his control.
“All I can do is just continue to work and continue to keep my head down and do what I love to do every day, and that’s play tennis and inspire millions of people,” Kyrgios said.
But after reaching Wimbledon’s final — and reflecting since on the victory that might have been — Kyrgios said he has adopted a “totally different mind-set” about his potential and his preparation going forward.
“Obviously, that [Wimbledon] loss hurts,” he said. “I think ever since I picked up a tennis racket, I had coaches in my ear saying the Wimbledon trophy is the highest accolade you can achieve in the sport. To have that opportunity and come up short wasn’t easy for me to stomach. …
“There are so many things I would have done differently, I think, now that I have digested that match. But I’m doing all the right things to put myself in that position again.”
Asked if that meant he was driven, Kyrgios said, “Yeah, it’s taken me 27 years.”
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