The Predictable Unpredictability of Nick Kyrgios

By Owais Majid

A few days ago, Rafael Nadal overcame Nick Kyrgios in three tight sets to progress to the Indian Wells semifinals. As is often the case when Kyrgios is concerned, though, much of the focus was on him, regardless of match result.

Throughout the near three hour tussle, we were treated to the entire repertoire of Nick Kyrgios. From the brilliant to the frustrating, the absurd to the astonishing, there was no shortage in entertainment from Australian. 

After racing into a 3-1 lead in the first set by breaking the Nadal serve following a double fault from the Spaniard, Kyrgios went on to hold serve with relative ease for the most part, throwing in a tweener underarm serve, a new addition to his substantial box of tricks. When serving for the set though, he played a couple loose points, and Nadal a few amazing ones, to hand the break back. 

Kyrgios blasts a 109 mph forehand winner at 5-5 in the first set. Screenshot: Tennis TV

The tiebreaker played out in a fashion we’ve become accustomed to from Kyrgios over the years. After losing a couple of minibreaks early on due almost certainly to him still ruing the previous service game, Kyrgios tanked the back end of it to lose the tiebreaker by 7 points to 0. Facing six set points at 6-0 down, he told a member of the crowd to “shut the fuck up,” and was handed a point penalty (he had used his soft warning by smashing his racket earlier in the set) to lose the set. 

Though he was dialed in for the majority of the set, there were still plenty of the usual Kyrgios antics. At one point, he demanded, not unreasonably, that the umpire silence a member of the crowd. He also branded Nadal lucky after a net cord winner and at another point spat on the court in a show of frustration.

At this point, history suggested that Kyrgios may have given up on the match, or else play expedition tennis with little care for the result. 

To his credit though, Kyrgios remained engaged throughout. Maybe it was the clear animosity he has had for Nadal in the past, maybe it was the fact that his schedule now demands that he makes the most of his limited time on court, but there was determination about Kyrgios we rarely get to see.

After a nip and tuck set, Kyrgios did to Nadal what the 21-time Grand Slam champion does so often to his opponents – he broke at the end of the second set to take it 7-5 and force a decider.

The momentum was with Kyrgios at that point and this remained the case for the beginning of the third set as he earned himself another two break points. Nadal ended up fending both of these off, thus bursting Kyrgios’s bubble. The pendulum clearly swung in Nadal’s favour after that as he in turn broke the Kyrgios serve which had been so solid all match.

The aftermath was in many ways as interesting as the match itself. After Nadal sealed victory, Kyrgios smashed a racket which bounced wildly off the court and came within inches of hitting a ball boy’s head. Although Kyrgios did later apologise, it was still a worrying moment and one that could have potentially been really harmful.

When he was asked about the incident in his press conference, Kyrgios was far from impressed with the question.

“Did I throw the racket anywhere near him originally? It landed a metre from my foot and skidded and nearly hit him. I’m human, things happen like that. If I do that a million times over, it wouldn’t have gone that way. It definitely wasn’t like Zverev. It was a complete accident.”

This wasn’t the first time, and almost certainly won’t be the last, that Kyrgios has had an issue with a journalist’s question. Often he has had reason to do so. This however was not such a case. This incident was the latest in what is becoming an increasingly worrying trend. The instance that Kyrgios alluded to with Zverev was undoubtedly far worse than what Kyrgios did but that by no means excuses his own behaviour.

A moment of needless recklessness could have seriously injured a ball boy. It should be said that Kyrgios did meet up with the ball boy the next day, giving him a racket, and by all accounts all was well that ended well but it could have been so different. More worrying than the actual moment was his failure to recognise the potential harm he could have caused. It seems that, only once something more severe does occur, will tennis address the issue of players endangering those around them on court.

The above all being said, Kyrgios did for the most part give an impressive account of himself and that shouldn’t be forgotten. As Nadal mentioned in his post match interview, a motivated Kyrgios is one of the most dangerous players on the tour and that was certainly what we got to see in his match against Nadal.

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