Nick Kyrgios: The erratic genius (Profile)

Melbourne, Jan 19 (IANS) The unexpected first-round fall of Nick Kyrgios, the 14th-ranked erratic Australian genius who plays more with pique than passion, has created a pall of gloom in this sport-loving country where to win is everything.

The 1-6, 6-7 (7-1),6-4, 6-2, 10-8 loss to 89th-ranked Italian Andreas Seppi in a raucous five-setter at the cavernous Hisense tennis arena of the Australian Open again send up theories of how Kyrgios has to conquer his mind before he can break into the top 10, let alone replace Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray at the top.

Kyrgios, who has a brilliant brand of unhurried and composed tennis, has got his share of unfair criticism for his outbursts and sudden onset of disinterest in the middle of play. In the match yesterday, egged on by more than 20,000 frenzied supporters, Kyrgios looked thoroughly detached, earned two code violations, one for racket abuse and another for launching an f-word at his own team

This time, however, he blamed himself and his team: “I didn’t have the best preparation coming into the Austrialian Open. Pretty banged up, you know. I don’t even know what the score was at the end. Was it 10-8? 10-8 in the fifth, getting booed off, definitely not the best feeling,” he said at the post-match press conference.

He also indicated he was pulling out of the doubles. He admitted that he may need a coach soon since “I am the only guy in the top 100 without a coach”.

But who will coach Krygios? And make him understand?

Facing him, the Italian Seppi, one of the many on the tour who fumble at crucial hurdles, was composed and was never going to let off after climbing back from a two-set deficit. Seppi has many such stories of defeats from two sets up but on the balmy, windy night at Hisense he decided that it was time to overturn his destiny.

“Last time I was two sets to love up and lost, and I thought I would try to do the same to him. I was more concentrating on my game, not looking too much what he was doing,” Seppi said,

But what about Kyrgios? Can he win against himself?

In the dazzling and sapping fifth set, when games went with serves till the very end (there is no tie-breaker in the fifth set in a Grand Slam), Kyrgios was slouching, refusing to move fast, refusing to retrieve searing cross-courts and watching the passing shots as if he was in an art gallery. What was he telling himself? That I am not here to win?

Commentator Jim Courier said, “He’s checked out.” For the thousands of his fans — and this reporter — watching the match against the blowing winds, it was bewildering to say the least. But that is the way Kyrgios plays and he often seems to suggest that he is doing everyone a favour by just being there and entertaining them for no great reason for over three hours.

That is the way Kyrgios is made and that is why he is one of the most-watched and written-about top players on the tour. Not for him any imposed sense of decency nor any compulsion to get a back-pat from the purists. He is his own man and so far has been an enigma wrapped within a six-foot-plus frame.

Though he has created the impression that he does not practise much, nor is passionate about tennis, it may not be true. You have to see some of his forehand cross-courts blazing through, his back-hand chips and the measured ease with which he sends many irretrievable balls back, to realise that he has put serious effort into perfecting these shots.

When his mind is not there, Kyrgios behaves pathetically enough to be sacked from work. He once lost a first-round match to a 370th ranked Canadian player. He served 18 double faults, 10 more than Murray did in the entire two weeks of Wimbledon last year, for instance. His mind was not in that match for he had tweeted that morning: “Eat, sleep, Pokemon Go.”

That mind was what prevailed over the tennis player Kyrgios on the night of January 18 in Melbourne. In the 8th game of the 5th set, Seppi was allowed to fight back from 0-40 down. Seppi realised that since Kyrgios wasn’t attempting to retrieve, down-the-lines were the best weapon and he used them well. Kyrgios looked weighted with a stone, stranded, helpless or rather not keen on tennis at that moment.

But on a day, sooner than later, when his mind is in that zone full of sunlight and Kyrgios can see far into the horizon, he will unleash some shots that only he can — that flashing forehand cross-court with a casual elegance that only the great can summon. Then, with enviable nonchalance, he will walk off as if to say that he has other business to attend.

–IANS

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