LAST night it was like walking in on your parents rehearsing the act of giving you a sibling.
You saw it, you can’t unsee it and you won’t get proper closure on it unless you talk it out with someone.
Nick Kyrgios, three months shy of his 22nd birthday, already the winner of three tour titles, someone who has already played a quarter final at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, the number 13 in the world, could not be more enigmatic if you tried.
No question he has the talent to win many grand slams, something you wouldn’t bandy around too often about many, however there are far too many question marks about the rest of his skillset, mindset and attitude that second-round exits like last night can occur really far too easily.
Instead of banishing him to the realms of utter disregard and contempt as long as he is on the circuit, with some key changes in his preparation and some further maturation personally, all is not completely lost.
1. Get a coach
He doesn’t have a coach, and last admitted himself doesn’t “think there’s anyone in the top 100 without a coach except for me.”
Jimmy Connors offered to coach him last year, he could do a lot worse given the obvious parallels between the two hotheads’ early days, and even a Roger Rasheed at the other end of the spectrum would do just as good. At this stage any coach is an upgrade on what he has now, and it’s a pertinent place to start.
2. Get a mentor he trusts
Kyrgios doesn’t trust many, especially as there would be a tangible link between the scrutiny he feels from the media’s portrayal of him and the performances we see – it’s essentially a continuous loop. The problem with that is these sorts of things are endless without a circuit breaker, and that’s where a mentor would come in.
Sure, Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt can play a sort-of mentor role in that capacity but someone else, possibly out of tennis completely, would be a good place to start.
Anyone from a Kevin Sheedy, to a Laurie Daley, or even a Steve Waugh, someone who has two things: great esteem in their sporting career and with leadership qualities which have clearly positively influenced young sportsmen.
3. Do pre-season with the Canberra Raiders
He is still based out of Canberra because of family but concedes “I think I didn’t have the best preparation, (I) did a couple things in the off-season that I’m probably not going to do next time. It’s on me, I guess, (to) actually take my pre-season seriously.”
The Canberra Raiders, under another great leader of young men coach Ricky Stuart, would be a terrific win for Kyrgios.
Not only are there numerous, tangible success stories of individual-sport athletes participating in the preparations of team-sport training programs but that it’s amongst athletes that aren’t tennis players and would care more about his camaraderie than how he performs on the circuit would be instrumental.
Nick’s not a massive tennis fan per se, so the chance to get out the tennis bubble but still be included in a high-performance environment would offer him enormous benefits.
4. Play doubles with Thanasi Kokkinakis
No question that Nick and Thanasi are two peas in a pod. The scandal last year linking something Nick said to Stan Warwinka about what Thanasi may or may not have done with someone the Swiss was previously involved with, it’s the stuff of two young boys who are best mates.
Getting onto the doubles circuit isn’t an unusual thing for Kyrgios, he has played a tonne of doubles actually, but to do so with someone he is so close to and very happy being in their company would help his tennis as well.
It would not only motivate Kyrgios at the tournaments he plays overseas, in both singles and doubles, but it will help with concentration over the year and in maintaining his interest in the sport he is so blessed with talent.
5. Stick with it
The last thing he needs to do is listen to all the negativity out there and convert that into pessimism about his career, ‘why bother’, ‘what is the point’, ‘my country has disowned me’.
There are two key reasons why he needn’t get so down on himself: he is only 21 and the Australian sporting public are as fickle as federal politicians at a leadership spill.
Roger Federer, argued to be the greatest player of all time, to the same age Nick is now had only won two more titles and he has gone on to win the most grand slam titles of any male in the history of the sport.
Sure, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray all started their rapid ascension up the rankings around 21, 22 years of age, but Kyrgios isn’t a swimmer or gymnast who will be considered ‘old’ and ‘past it’ within five minutes.
Nick is the second youngest player in the top 50 at number 13 (Alex Zverev, 24, is no.19). That ranking will go down after the Australian Open but there are very few more talented players in the world under 22 right now than the Canberran, if any.
And further, the nation was predominantly against Lleyton Hewitt early on in his career, his tenacity was always there but his ‘negative’ traits dominated the popular view on him, his ‘brashness’ and his ‘disrespect’ to opponents. In hindsight we’d collectively agree that we were either too harsh a judge and/or we didn’t pay enough respect to the qualities we eventually liked him for, such as his tenacity.
For Nick, he grows up further, gets stability in his program and puts the structures in place to support that, the country COULD grow to admire his showmanship and his dynamic tennis game.
All is not lost, despite how it looks. Time to get serious Nick.