SAM HARVEY is a sports blogger, podcaster and writer. His father PAUL HARVEY (HARV) is an illustrator who is considered one of Australia’s most diverse and accomplished artists. Kyrgios features quotes, interviews and stats on Australian tennis player, Nick Kyrgios. Read on for an extract.
ABOUT THE BOOK
It’s the life and times of tennis bad boy Nick Kyrgios!
Known as Australia’s tennis “bad boy”, Nick Kyrgios is a staple name in the world of tennis. With his unconventional playing style, constant battles with authority and a knack for showing off his boorish behaviour and uncontrollable temper mid-game, Nick is a the poster boy that continues to make headlines in sport whether he’s winning, losing or anything in-between.
Kyrgios: The Smash Hits celebrates Australia’s ultimate tennis headliner featuring yarns, quotes, interviews and stats on the small-town boy discovering his natural talents at a sport he initially didn’t like.
Nick Kyrgios is a complex character. He has undoubted talent as a tennis player, possibly even capable of a Grand Slam trophy. But there’s another side to him, a dark side that doesn’t endear himself to traditionalists and has some referring to him as a ticking timebomb.
Few other players display the level of emotion that he has done throughout his career.
He played his first match on the ATP Tour in 2013. Nine years later he was enjoying his best season ever, winning titles and defeating top 10 players including the World No.1.
He became a Wimbledon finalist but he’s also one of the most penalised players in world professional tennis.
Anyone with even just a passing interest in tennis will have a view about him, whether it is a former Wimbledon champion such as John McEnroe or Pat Cash, or an eight-year-old starting out in a Hot Shots program. Some will detest him; others will be fans.
His name isn’t usually mentioned in the same breath as Australia’s most recent tennis champion, Ash Barty, who won three women’s Grand Slams – the French, the Australian and The Open at Wimbledon – before retiring gracefully and with accolades aplenty.
The Kyrgios way isn’t the Barty way and it is doubtful that when he puts his racquets away for good he will be remembered with the same reverence as Ash Barty.
He was 27 years old when he reached the final at Wimbledon in 2022 and should have had a few good years of tennis left, if injuries don’t intervene and he still has the will to win. That’s a big ‘if’ of course.
He was troubled by knee soreness twice during the US swing and even hinted that the end of his career might not be far away, although few took that seriously.
So, why does he play tennis? He has said he doesn’t like the game much. In a 2016 interview he said: ‘I definitely don’t love the sport … there is zero chance that Nick Kyrgios will be playing tennis when he’s 30 years old.’
His motivation has often been questioned. He’s even been accused of tanking – losing a set deliberately. Sometimes he is highly motivated, sometimes he isn’t. Motivation comes and goes.
He explained: ‘I’m just trying to not let people down,’ Kyrgios said after beating Daniil Medvedev for the second time in 2022.
‘I was in this press conference room a while back and I lost in the third round, it was the worst feeling because I’ve just got so much expectation. I’m finally able to show it now. I feel like I’ve been working really hard. I’ve just got a lot of motivation at the moment.’
Kyrgios is good at tennis. At least he is when he puts his mind and body to it. Perhaps wanting to win a ‘major’, one of four Grand Slams played worldwide, is enough motivation to keep him going after all.
He got close in 2022, aged 27, and if a Slam is his aim and by his reckoning, he’d have three years left to achieve one. After reaching the Wimbledon final in 2022 it seemed he found a new interest in Grand Slams, setting himself for the US Open just over a month later and posting his best results there by reaching the quarter-finals.
Previously, he’d played down his interest in Grand Slams: ‘I don’t have a doubt that if I wanted to win Grand Slams, I would commit. I’d train two times a day. I’d go to the gym every day. I’d stretch. I’d rehab. I’d eat right.’
But by August 2022 just weeks ahead of the US Open he was focussed on getting a seeding so he could avoid the top 10 players at least until later rounds.
And after losing the quarter-final at the US Open in September 2022, for the first time he conceded winning Grand Slams is now the only thing that will satisfy him.
He has rarely talked about what he earns, but according to those who record such figures, he has done nicely – more than $A 18 million on the ATP Tour in the nine years since he turned professional (plus endorsements as well).
He likes to beat the world’s best. Over his career he has claimed some prized scalps – Nadal, Federer, Djokovic – all Number 1 players. In the US in 2022, he took down the World No. 1 Daniil Medvedev twice in the space of 30 days, costing the Russian his top ranking.
To many coaches and players, he doesn’t play by the old rules
He’s always confident when he takes on anyone ranked higher than him: ‘I feel like I’m one of the best players in the world tactically,’ he once said. And: ‘It’s better to be the underdog than have all the pressure, for sure.’ But he also once said: ‘I think when things get tough, I’m just a little bit soft.’
Attitudes to Kyrgios are tempered by what people see on the world’s tennis courts. Now that Kyrgios is a Wimbledon finalist, the pinnacle of his then nine-year career, more people have seen the many sides of him. He’s the player with a touch of genius but also the player who can be defaulted during a match for throwing a tantrum.
He is his own man.
Nike became one of his sponsors from an early time. He went on to the court against friend Thanasi Kokkinakis in the 2015 Australian Open boys final in 2913 wearing a ‘lucky’ shirt that was 18 months old. It wasn’t Nike’s latest and they weren’t impressed.
Another time he wanted to play in a singlet so he cut the sleeves off his shirt. He’s complained about blinking lights, people talking, people smoking, lack of support from his player’s box … it’s along list.
To many coaches and players, he doesn’t play by the old rules – ‘This is how the game is’, ‘this is how the game should be played.’
That’s not the Kyrgios way. So, where has his way taken him? A Wimbledon final of course.
He reached a career-high ranking of No. 13 in 2019. He would have returned to the Top 30 had rankings points been on offer at Wimbledon (they weren’t because players from Russia and Belarus were banned in response to the Russian assault on Ukraine). Reaching the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows moved him back into the Top 20 at 18, for the time being at least and Australians No. 1 men’s player.
Kyrgios has critics, many. He also has a fan club, started during the Australian Open in 2022.
Just what makes Kyrgios tick isn’t clear, perhaps not even to himself.
He has been relatively forthcoming about his progress through the ranks to become a Wimbledon finalist, beaten in 2022 in four sets (4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6) by a legend of the game, Novak Djokovic, himself a controversial figure but in a different way.
In Kyrgios’s own words after his quarterfinal win: ‘There was a time where I was having to be forced out of a pub at 4 a.m. to play Nadal second round (2019). My agent had to come get me out of a pub at 4 a.m. before I played my match on Centre Court Wimbledon. I’ve come a long way, that’s for sure.’
How well do we really know him? At a post-match press conference, he was asked about how he saw himself compared to other players. His response: ‘Well, none of you really know me at all. Like, you don’t hang out with me at all. You only kind of see what you see on the court. It’s always been a bit of a roller coaster. So I understand how it’s mixed reviews.’
Does he care how he is perceived? ‘I just feel like I’m comfortable in my own skin,’ is his answer. Fair call.
He has had some dark moments – self harm, booze and drugs were part of that darkness, and he isn’t reluctant to talk about them. He has had self-doubts, but Wimbledon in 2022 seemed to give him new confidence. His achievements in the US Open after that reinforced his ability and renewed self-belief.
He explained after the Wimbledon final: ‘There was a point where I was almost done with the sport … I posted (on Instagram) this year about the kind of mental state I was in in 2019 when I was at the Australian Open with self-harm and suicidal thoughts and stuff. I’m sitting there today after the match … to be a semi-finalist at Wimbledon, it’s a special accomplishment for everyone, but I think especially for me.
‘I don’t think anyone would have – if you asked anyone if I was able to do that the last couple years, I think everyone would have probably said: No, he doesn’t have the mental capacity, he doesn’t have the fitness capacity, he doesn’t have the discipline, all that. I almost started doubting myself with all that traffic coming in and out of my mind.
‘I just sat there today and soaked it all in. There’s just so many people I want to thank. At the same time I feel like I don’t want to stop here either.’
And he didn’t – going all the way to the last 8 at the US Open, yet bitterly disappointed he didn’t go further.
‘I feel like these four tournaments are the only ones that are ever gonna matter, and it’s like you have to start it all again, and I have to wait until Australian Open,’ he said.
‘It’s devastating. It’s heartbreaking. Not just for me, it’s for everyone I know that wants me to win.’