Nick Kyrgios is one of the most charismatic and engaging people in tennis. He is also an enigma and sometimes can be liked to Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. He never ceases to amaze on and off the court.
Kyrgios speaks his mind, and you always know where you stand with him. He is highly intelligent and will put you on the spot with his questioning. He does not suffer fools lightly and he is lightning fast with his one-liner responses and comments. The only other player his razor-sharp tongue can be compared to is John McEnroe.
A perfect case in point was at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Kyrgios was in a tense and exciting match. In the first row of the stands was actor Ben Stiller. People with the actor were taunting Kyrgios. “Are you good at tennis?” Kyrgios asked. “No. Then why are you speaking? Do I tell him how to act?” It resulted in howls of laughter.
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Kyrgios is an entertainer who has more talent than probably 97 per cent of the tour. He’d likely put up a legitimate case for it to be higher.
“Look at the matches I played, it’s exciting, it’s focused, it’s still a bit different,” Kyrgios told Wide World of Sports. “It’s something I struggle to deal with, the balance. I’ve always been like that since I was a kid. Matches were always a rollercoaster. I don’t know, I’m never going to be someone who goes out there and ticks all the boxes.
“I really try hard. It’s a struggle for me sometimes; some days to wake up and come to the courts or wake up and just not want to leave my room. I deal with normal human issues but I’m also just proud of myself that I go out there and keep my head down and I play well. It’s not easy to do week in and week out.”
The biggest thing for him is to find a balance. He makes it clear that he is “two very different people on the court, off the court”. His love of basketball is meditation for him. Recently in Sydney he jumped at the opportunity to play a basketball match for charity, and he was on the opposing side to the state leader for New South Wales who himself is a basketball tragic. Kyrgios ran rings around the first.
When he is on that court he’s freedom; nothing else enters him mind, not tennis, not relationships, nothing.
Not since McEnroe has a player so divided opinion on the tennis tour.
Kyrgios has had more than his fair share of negativity directed at him; justified at times, many other times not. It is not meant as an excuse for some of his behavior but consider being in his position in the heat of battle with thousands of eyes boring down on you. It’s a cauldron. For sure other players handle similar situations differently but then everyone is different. There are short fuses and long fuses.
He is trying hard to handle situations on court when he is being taunted. The fans are looking for and wanting him to bite and to get a reaction and explosion. It’s a game for some spectators who ignore the fact there is another person in front of them, not some circus performer, not that they should be hounded either.
“It’s not always easy. It’s so accessible now to go on your phone, social media, Twitter, Instagram and just go to messages and comments and you see so much negativity. You may not take it in but subconsciously it’s still going into your brain and dealing with hecklers,” Kyrgios said.
“I deal with it all the time. People just think raising the finger, abusing someone or making racist comments is acceptable in this day and age and I just don’t think that’s acceptable at all. Now you just have to use it as motivation but that’s easier said than done. People talk shit about you and do bad things. They’re achieving nothing to what you’re achieving. You have to just try and brush it off and use it as motivation and cling onto the people around you that send you positive energy all the time.”
Despite trying desperately hard to be with those he is close to and the ones he loves, the impact of the negative material still led to mental health issues. It is something he is very open and frank about because he hopes speaking of his struggles will help others. Nick can relate to what Naomi Osaka went through and she continues to deal with – the weight on her shoulders, millions of people looking to her which is offset by the vocal haters.
He responds graphically when asked how serious his issues were.
“It was very serious, to the point of self-harm and it’s not okay,” he said firmly but with a deft tone in his voice. “I guess I pushed everyone that cared about me away and I wasn’t communicating, and I just shut down real life and I was trying to handle and tackle my problems head-on.
“I was abusing alcohol a lot, drugs and that spiralled out of control. Now I barely drink – I literally have a glass of wine at dinner. That was the initial kind of thing I had to clean up a little bit and then build my relationship back with my family and get into healthier habits like the basics; like diet, getting good sleep, trying to train a little bit more and that was it. I think COVID helped me a lot with that.”
Kyrgios explained he as trying to be what others wanted him to be and that made him uncomfortable. It could be likened to depression. He did not want to leave his room. Going to events was exhausting, meeting people who “really didn’t care who I was as a human being, rather just a tennis player … the crazy tennis player”.
He felt used and mentally abused and no matter the conversation he might have been having with people, it came across that they were “just trying to use me” and he lost trust in people. He fell out with his family and “it was just dark”.
There was intense emotional and mental pain.
He added: “I felt I was letting people down all the time. I felt worthless to be honest, I didn’t feel comfortable, I hated my life at one stage.
“I was cutting, burning, just pretty f—ed up shit. It was so dark that I kind of liked it as well, like asking people to do it and stuff. What doesn’t kill you makes you stranger (and stronger). I’m still a bit cooked.”
And then on top of all the negativity he faces the opinions of others – Kyrgios needs a coach; Nick should be doing this and that. In essence why should it be anyone else’s business. How does the next person know what is good for him or not?
They’re not living in his skin to know first-hand. It’s interference. It’s a very big problem with society. The next person thinks they know it all. So-called authorities take it upon themselves to insist which player needs a coach, through to claiming someone coughing has COVID but is not prepared to acknowledge it could be something else.
“It’s a very big problem with society,” he said. “Everyone thinks their two cents is relevant to someone else’s life. You’re not living their life so how do you know what they should be doing or how they’re feeling there are problems dealing with. If you find that peace within yourself, you don’t have to please anyone else – the results are coming. People are always going to have opinions.”
And while no one should expect Nick Kyrgios to be an altar boy, there has been somewhat of a change in his attitude and approach. That can be put down to two things – the Australian Open and his girlfriend Costen Hatzi, an interior designer.
He found new motivation in Melbourne. He had lost his vision on court and what he was wanting to achieve but what he and Thanasi Kokkinakis accomplished there winning the men’s doubles, their first title at a major, reminded him that people relate to him. “We made the sport energetic – the WWE even sent us wrestling belts for Christ’s sake,” he said.
Tennis is still a love-hate relationship for him, but he felt a big change when he lost his singles to Daniil Medvedev in an entertaining match. He remained focused and “ticked all the boxes for the first time”. It was a case of still feeling good despite the loss.
Off court and within himself he is as comfortable as he has ever been, and he doesn’t beat himself up after losing a match. When you are healthy (as he is now) and being happy, it translates to the court.
“I do love the sport; I’m a massive student of the game and I do enjoy watching tennis at times,” Kyrgios said. “I love it to a degree; it’s my life and I’ve dedicated hours and hours that I’m never going to get back.”
He’s been finding that crucial balance and Nick credits a fair bit to Costen who he describes as “awesome and my best friend”.
“She doesn’t really know anything about tennis. The only two players she knows is me and Thanasi and that makes tennis quite exciting for her,” he said laughing, which was wonderful to see after all the darkness Nick had described.
“If she knew 95 per cent of the tour, she’d probably blow her brains out. I’m actually at a point in my life I’d like to start settling down a bit. I’ve had a lot of fun in my life.”
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