Mount Saint Nick is almost always on the verge of an eruption, no matter the situation. Take last month’s Citi Open in Washington, DC
Nick Kyrgios was playing his first match since reaching his maiden Grand Slam final at Wimbledon a few weeks earlier. On the first point against the unheralded and overwhelmed American Marcos Giron, he tried – and failed – to land a shot between his legs, which was entertaining enough.
A handful of games later, however, while proceedings were still at serve and after Giron hit a nice but harmless winner on the line to briefly get back the debut, the Aussie collected a ball, turned to the crowd and fired him so far out of the stadium it could have ended up in Baltimore.
In earlier times, Kyrgios would almost certainly have exploded and then imploded.
But on match point, Kyrgios walked up to a fan, asked the woman where to hit his serve and dispatched Giron in under an hour before eventually winning the tournament without being broken. The title was the first of the year for the 27-year-old and the performance may be a harbinger of the next two weeks at the US Open.
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Kyrgios has had years with more titles – three in 2016 and two in 2019 – but to say he plays far from his best tennis, and currently one of the best tennis around on the planet, would be to have lived up to the past few months a lonely island.
“I think I had such a bad experience and last year it was so busy this time that I didn’t have a good time on a tennis court at all,” Kyrgios told The Post.
You don’t even have to go that far back for some of the bad stuff.
In July, Kyrgios was in the middle of his run with the All England Club Charged with assaulting an ex-girlfriend in an alleged incident last December. The case will go to court in October. If convicted, he faces up to two years in prison.
Already in May Kyrgios spoke about his mental problems, especially earlier in his career. The dark days included drugs, alcohol and suicidal thoughts. A few months after this revelation, Kyrgios’ older brother Christos, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that the carefree and engaged kid he grew up with was “almost gone,” that he had become “a prisoner in his own body,” and that the two stopped talking for a while.
There were times when he admittedly threw matches. There have also been countless swear words and tantrums on the pitch over the months and years. The most recent outburst came during the Wimbledon final, where Kyrgios, after keeping his composure and cool, won the opening set against Novak Djokovic melted down in an epic-but-typical way. At that time he insulted his own box and pointed to a woman who allegedly shouted during one of his serves, who describes her as “insanely drunk” and says she’s had “about 700 drinks, bro.” (Earlier in the tournament, Kyrgios also spat at a fan and was fined $10,000.)
Of course, Djokovic went on to collect his 21st career major, his second all-time. And the woman who temporarily sacked Kyrgios, Polish medical lawyer Ania Palus, is now sue for defamation.
But something seems to have clicked with the normally unaccountable and uncontrolled Kyrgios, at least of late.
On the pitch, his fitness and training habits are said to have improved and become more focused. The Mount Saint Nick eruptions have also simmered somewhat.
Off the pitch, he’s come to realize he’s 27 and the opportunities that come his way don’t come around very often – without Djokovic or Roger Federer at Flushing Meadows and Rafael Nadal, who has sustained a stomach rupture, if Kyrgios ever goes to win a slam, now is the time.
Kyrgios also credits his current girlfriend Costeen Hatzi for that Add a dose of calm, balance and support.
“I think it definitely helps to be at peace with your life,” Kyrgios said in Washington. “If you look at the most successful players in the world, everything is settled around them and they don’t care about anything else on the outside. Your job is to just go out there and focus on the tennis court and fight hard and produce tennis and that’s it.”
There is no apology or excuse for Kyrgios’ behavior regarding the assault charges. If there’s a bit of guilt, he should pay the price because while he can move on, the victim doesn’t get that luxury.
As for tennis, it’s a good idea that Kyrgios focuses on that.
He’s 31-9 in 11 tournaments this year. That includes pushing Nadal to three sets in Indian Wells; a straight-set win over Andrey Rublev in Miami; victories over hated rival Stefanos Tsitsipas in Germany and at Wimbledon; a dismal three-set win over hometown favorite Frances Tiafoe in DC; and Daniil Medvedev in three sets in Montreal.
Much of that success has come from Kyrgios’ booming serves – he’s third on the tour in aces and fourth in first-serve points won this season – but the rest of his game has changed in terms of too Durability and quality improved.
Perhaps there are other signs of maturation, however small.
In DC, he often interacted off-camera with fans, especially children. Between games, he toured the city and posed for photos with Hatzi. And when it became clear that the singles title was within reach, he didn’t let doubles partner Jack Sock drop out, even if it meant playing both finals on the same day. He also won that title, becoming the first player in the tournament’s 53-year history to win both, and then thanked everyone involved in the event.
“I feel a bit like a perfectionist sometimes,” Kyrgios told the Post. “I feel like the Wimbledon final just made me obsessed with playing a perfect point every time when in tennis it’s not at all realistic. … I think I’ll be a little nicer to myself and stop expecting to play the perfect point every time.
“You know, it’s a new experience. Sometimes people play a Slam final or win a Grand Slam and fight for the next six months, but I feel like I don’t want to be one of those players. I want to be one of those players who ride it and keep playing well. I don’t want to have breaks or down matches after a Grand Slam. It’s a small window, so I’ll use it.”
He needs it now more than ever.