Infotainment Factory: The conflict going on inside Camp Kyrgios

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Tuesday, 8 January 2019

The conflict going on inside Camp Kyrgios


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“I honestly could not care less” is the Nick Kyrgios quote that has garnered the most attention in the Australian Open lead-up, which is neither terribly surprising nor as brattishly recalcitrant as it may sound.

Yes, his second round capitulation to French veteran Jeremy Chardy at the Brisbane International ensured Kyrgios would plunge from the top 50 for the first time in almost four years, with any slim hope of an Australian Open seeding snuffed out simultaneously.

But the Canberran has never been as interested in rankings as, say, Bernard Tomic, and is considerably more likely to string together his mercurial talents for seven matches over a grand slam fortnight than he is to maintain the required level for long enough to take up residence in the top five, much less at No.1. 

Some would suggest that neither scenario is even remotely probable given the 23-year-old’s questionable application, physical fragility and enduring struggles with the mental side of the game - the latter now being addressed with the help of a sports psychologist in a move Kyrgios admits could and should have come sooner.

But the habitual divider of national opinion is never going to be a numbers man, so when he was very publicly “not caring less” about the rankings ramifications, one senses that honesty was indeed part of the deal.

Note this comment after Monday night’s victory over 17-time major winner Rafael Nadal in the hit-and-giggle abbreviated format that is Fast4: “I’ve proven I’ve been able to win the big matches. It’s more about the day-to-day consistency and showing up every day. That’s more of a challenge for me.’’

Of course it is, and thus eyebrows were raised when, in Brisbane, Kyrgios also admitted that, despite apparently barely hitting a ball since October: “I had an unbelievable pre-season. I loved every bit of it being home. And being away from the sport. I loved it.’’

Hard to imagine Alex de Minaur or John Millman ever uttering those words, but those two admirable workhorses are very different beasts. Kyrgios’ true feelings about the sport that has already made him a very wealthy man are for him to know and a divided Australian tennis public to wonder. Or not.

Still, the fact that he continues to play - however modest the schedule - suggests it is still easier to feign indifference than admit to an affection for something that lack of results might, ahem, suggest mattered just a little bit after all.

Even Tomic has had his say, suggesting ahead of Wednesday’s Kooyong Classic exhibition match that Kyrgios “is needing this more than anything because he is a little bit mentally struggling right now”. Tomic would know the feeling.

To the Queenslander’s credit, though, another unfulfilled talent has rehabilitated his career from the depths of the mid-200s last May to earn direct Australian Open entry as the world No.85. Which is just 34 places behind the one-time Davis Cup teammate who very pointedly distanced himself from Tomic in a PlayersVoice column last year.

Tomic’s plea to the trailing media pack at Kooyong on Monday was to “leave me alone”, and there seems little doubt that Kyrgios, too, would like nothing better. Except that, paradoxically, the serial Tweeter who drives a rare, look-at-me $300,000 car also courts attention just by being #nkrising or, on Instagram, k1ngkyrg1os.

Yet it is also true that tennis needs entertainers, and the odd villain doesn’t go astray, either. Such compelling viewing does Kyrgios provide when in the right frame of mind that he has obvious appeal to the younger generation of fans - my 14-year-old daughter among them - that most sports are so keen to attract.

So whatever the holes in his preparation and however many pieces may still be missing from the head-scratching puzzle that is Nick Kyrgios, watch the Australian No.4 win a few rounds at Melbourne Park and then see how “I honestly couldn’t care less” is forgotten by a success-hungry host nation that starts taking a little more interest in its combustible wild child than it might be fashionable to admit.

*Linda Pearce has covered more than 50 majors since 1988 and has won multiple tennis media awards including the 2015 ATP Media Excellence Award.

“I honestly could not care less” is the Nick Kyrgios quote that has garnered the most attention in the Australian Open lead-up, which is neither terribly surprising nor as brattishly recalcitrant as it may sound.

Yes, his second round capitulation to French veteran Jeremy Chardy at the Brisbane International ensured Kyrgios would plunge from the top 50 for the first time in almost four years, with any slim hope of an Australian Open seeding snuffed out simultaneously.

But the Canberran has never been as interested in rankings as, say, Bernard Tomic, and is considerably more likely to string together his mercurial talents for seven matches over a grand slam fortnight than he is to maintain the required level for long enough to take up residence in the top five, much less at No.1. 

Some would suggest that neither scenario is even remotely probable given the 23-year-old’s questionable application, physical fragility and enduring struggles with the mental side of the game - the latter now being addressed with the help of a sports psychologist in a move Kyrgios admits could and should have come sooner.

But the habitual divider of national opinion is never going to be a numbers man, so when he was very publicly “not caring less” about the rankings ramifications, one senses that honesty was indeed part of the deal.

Note this comment after Monday night’s victory over 17-time major winner Rafael Nadal in the hit-and-giggle abbreviated format that is Fast4: “I’ve proven I’ve been able to win the big matches. It’s more about the day-to-day consistency and showing up every day. That’s more of a challenge for me.’’

Of course it is, and thus eyebrows were raised when, in Brisbane, Kyrgios also admitted that, despite apparently barely hitting a ball since October: “I had an unbelievable pre-season. I loved every bit of it being home. And being away from the sport. I loved it.’’

Hard to imagine Alex de Minaur or John Millman ever uttering those words, but those two admirable workhorses are very different beasts. Kyrgios’ true feelings about the sport that has already made him a very wealthy man are for him to know and a divided Australian tennis public to wonder. Or not.

Still, the fact that he continues to play - however modest the schedule - suggests it is still easier to feign indifference than admit to an affection for something that lack of results might, ahem, suggest mattered just a little bit after all.

Even Tomic has had his say, suggesting ahead of Wednesday’s Kooyong Classic exhibition match that Kyrgios “is needing this more than anything because he is a little bit mentally struggling right now”. Tomic would know the feeling.

To the Queenslander’s credit, though, another unfulfilled talent has rehabilitated his career from the depths of the mid-200s last May to earn direct Australian Open entry as the world No.85. Which is just 34 places behind the one-time Davis Cup teammate who very pointedly distanced himself from Tomic in a PlayersVoice column last year.

Tomic’s plea to the trailing media pack at Kooyong on Monday was to “leave me alone”, and there seems little doubt that Kyrgios, too, would like nothing better. Except that, paradoxically, the serial Tweeter who drives a rare, look-at-me $300,000 car also courts attention just by being #nkrising or, on Instagram, k1ngkyrg1os.

Yet it is also true that tennis needs entertainers, and the odd villain doesn’t go astray, either. Such compelling viewing does Kyrgios provide when in the right frame of mind that he has obvious appeal to the younger generation of fans - my 14-year-old daughter among them - that most sports are so keen to attract.

So whatever the holes in his preparation and however many pieces may still be missing from the head-scratching puzzle that is Nick Kyrgios, watch the Australian No.4 win a few rounds at Melbourne Park and then see how “I honestly couldn’t care less” is forgotten by a success-hungry host nation that starts taking a little more interest in its combustible wild child than it might be fashionable to admit.

*Linda Pearce has covered more than 50 majors since 1988 and has won multiple tennis media awards including the 2015 ATP Media Excellence Award.

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