Once upon a time, Nick Kyrgios was seen as a berserker: capable of destroying a draw with a devastating performance against a top seed but equally capable of self-imploding at any time against any player in the draw. He was like a firecracker; loud, explosive, sometimes spectacular, but (usually) shortlived. These days, he’s burning brighter than ever.
Kyrgios is enjoying a career-best year.
He’s made the semi-finals or better at five of his last six tournaments, including reaching the Wimbledon final and winning the Citi Open in Washington DC on Sunday. He only missed out on the chance to make it six from six due to injury in Mallorca.
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His rocket serve looks better than ever; in DC he wasn’t broken all week and he finished the tournament with 96 aces. He’s still the same showman – see his finish against Marcos Giron when he asked a fan where to serve on match point – but there’s more seriousness and determination to his game. On Friday he won two matches and in the second of those, a highly watchable three-setter against Frances Tiafoe, he saved five match points. Kyrgios has also continued to excel in doubles, making the final in DC alongside Jack Sock after winning the title at the Atlanta Open with Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Kyrgios seems to have found the consistency that has eluded him for almost all of his career. If there had been ranking points on offer at Wimbledon he would be ranked around No. 15 in the world. As it stands he is No. 37, and well on course to be seeded for the US Open. Even though he has not cut out the trick shots and tweeners, there are less of them, and more thundering winners from the baseline. There's a willingness to put balls back into play and wait for the right moment, or trade shots in long rallies.
His serve is the X-factor though. In Washington he became the first player since 2002 to win an ATP title with at least 64 straight service holds. This season he leads the tour with a hold rate of 94.42 per cent, winning 423 of his 448 service games across 34 matches. Only three other players - John Isner (91.52 per cent), Reilly Opelka (90.83 per cent) and Hubert Hurkacz (90.13 per cent) - are above 90 per cent. Kyrgios' 538 aces are also the fifth highest this year, and his 79.17 break-point save percentage is the best on tour.
There seems more of a focus about everything Kyrgios is doing, even more so after making his first Grand Slam final.
“That was like the golden opportunity I felt for me," he said of his defeat to Djokovic at Wimbledon.
"There are so many things I would have done differently I think now that I have digested that match, but I'm doing all the right things to put myself in that position again. I think I'm doing that, and my whole team is helping me achieve that goal."
Kyrgios’ team appears central to his success.
Those in his box, including girlfriend Costeen Hatzi, manager Daniel Horsfall and physio Will Maher, copped plenty of flack over two weeks at Wimbledon. In the final they had to endure a stream of frustration from Kyrgios as the match against Djokovic slipped away from him. However, despite the verbal barbs directed towards his team, Kyrgios, who admits he has been "transformed", recognises how key they are.
“They are an incredible support group. My physio has been with me now for almost eight, nine years. I wouldn’t be here today in this physical shape without him,” he said in Washington.
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“I can’t thank my girlfriend enough and everything we’ve all been through. They know I would do anything for them and almost die for them.
“I think everything around me right now is amazing. I’m fortunate enough to be in a really healthy relationship that’s loving, she’s supports me, and we just have fun. Having my physio with me full-time, pretty much full-time this year has been great, because that was something I wasn’t able to do last year because of Covid. I just got (my) physio, my girlfriend, supportive, my manager is my best friend. I feel we are all on same page, have the same goals, I’m training hard. We are just having fun with it.”
If what Kyrgios has achieved over the last two months has been mightily impressive, there’s also excitement about what could be in store over the next few weeks. After Washington he is set to play the Canadian Open in Montreal, where an enticing second-round match against world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev could await. Medvedev got the better of Kyrgios over four sets at the Australian Open earlier this year after losing their previous two meetings. A first-ever career meeting between Kyrgios and Carlos Alcaraz would also be a barnstormer, if that were to happen this summer, as would another Kyrgios v Stefanos Tsitsipas showdown after their somewhat heated Wimbledon clash.
Kyrgios, who also has a court case this month, has not previously enjoyed much success at this time of the season, aside from a run to the final of the Western & Southern Open in 2017. However, having said himself that he was a top five or top 10 player on grass this year, the same is probably true on hard courts. Even though he is ranked outside the top 30, he is playing top-10 tennis. Consider also that two of the top 10 (Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev) are currently out due to injuries and another, Novak Djokovic, is likely to miss the entire summer due to being unvaccinated, and Kyrgios is pushing closer to top-five level. Certainly on current form there aren’t many more than five better players in the world than Kyrgios.
Which begs the question, will Kyrgios contend at the US Open? He’s yet to make it past the third round and will probably be heading into the tournament with a heavier workload than at any other time in his career. Whether that is a positive or negative remains to be seen, and it has to be noted that on previous evidence Kyrgios could combust at any point. But form right now deserves attention for all the right reasons.
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