Stop expecting Nick to change
WE’VE wasted a lot of our time and energy on trying to make Nick Kyrgios someone he’s not. So consider this a warning. If his energetic but enigmatic antics offend you, don’t watch him at the Australian Open.
He gave us a taste of what is to come last week in the Brisbane International when he scraped through the first round and then put on a typically rollercoaster display in the second against Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.
He won the first set, lost the second and then when down in the final set, flip-flopped between wanting to win and not wanting to be seen to be wanting to win … until he lost.
Kyrgios then jumped on his phone courtside and wandered off to tell the media how he “could not care less”.
It was a trademark performance and one sure to be repeated when the big stuff kicks off in a week.
But that’s him. It’s what he does. And it’s time that we just left him alone to do it.
There is no longer any point in us trying to impose on him our expectations of what an Australian tennis player should look like.
We just need to appreciate him as an entertainer who plays tennis. You’ll never have a dull moment at a Kyrgios match. If you want anything more, he’s not your man.
The tennis-loving public have become caught in a vicious cycle with Kyrgios and to a lesser extent his mate Bernard Tomic.
We have a perception of what an Aussie player should be, born out of the memory of people such as Rod Laver, Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt.
Everyone wants or hopes these two young men will behave like those greats did. When they don’t, we criticise them, they bite back and the cycle repeats itself.
But these two are cut from a different cloth. Kyrgios is a prodigious natural talent who could have been a star in any sport and Tomic has a talent built through the toil of growing up with his father as his coach.
What they have in common is a burden of expectation that has been carried for so long it has become difficult to bear.
With Kyrgios, failing and then railing against the criticism and disappointment is easier than succeeding and then having to live up to it.
Tomic has dropped so far off the radar in the past 12 months you can barely consider him one of our top tennis talents anymore — which is a shame for everyone.
Even a late season surge has failed to garner any attention.
So this year I’m breaking the cycle and encouraging others to do the same. If you want a good show, watch Nick. If you want something else, the good news is Australian tennis has plenty to offer.
Alex de Minaur, 19, is our highest-ranked male singles player — and with good reason — he went from battler to contender last year and drew comparisons with Hewitt for his fighting qualities.
Read what you will into the fact Hewitt has thrown his support behind the young Sydneysider, sitting courtside at his matches while being up the back at Kyrgios’s match last week.
De Minaur spent much of his childhood in Spain, but there was never any doubt which country he would represent.
“As soon as we moved back here, that was the first thing I wanted to do — play for Australia,” he said.
It’s the kind of attitude people say Kyrgios lacks, and de Minaur is also the type of kid who will rise to the challenge rather than shirk it.
Kyrgios had the advantage of size and a big serve from a young age that blew opponents away with little effort while de Minaur has had to learn to fight, scrap and grind out matches because he’s usually outmatched in muscle.
The other shining light is Ash Barty, who shared the Newcombe Medal with de Minaur last year.
Barty goes about her business so quietly she hasn’t attracted the same attention as de Minaur, but she’s also our main hope of having a player still in it during the second week of the Oz Open.
She has blitzed the doubles circuit, including winning the US Open, and steadily climbed the singles rankings as well.
We can also be sure Barty is playing tennis because she wants to — in 2014 she was worn out by the circuit and quit tennis indefinitely.
After a stint playing cricket, she returned to the game just over a year later and has been on an upward curve since.
Next week let’s concentrate on those good stories and take a break from the “bad boys”.
There’s a chance that, just like a kid having a tantrum, turning our backs on them might be the best medicine.