Many before me, and many after me, will contemplate the question, “is Nick Kyrgios good for tennis?” Let’s take this to the extreme. Is Nick Kyrgios a hero, or a villain?
Let’s first discuss what it means to be a hero. Thankfully, there is a vast amount of literature (comics) and new films, that we can pull from. Both DC and Marvel seem to share similar philosophies regarding heroship: heroes fight for a greater good, a cause that is more than just personal. Batman fights for Gotham and he sacrifices his personal wealth, health, and free time to defend Gotham’s citizens. The Avengers fight for planet Earth banding together putting aside their differences and fighting for the everyday person. The Jedi use the light side of the Force for others, they are selfless. Heroes fight for something. They cannot just fight for themselves, that is the role of the villain.
The Joker terrorizes for the thrill of chaos. The Sith use the force in the pursuit of personal power. Thanos is trickier, as he preaches the greater good. His defining feature is that he is not willing to put himself at risk to achieve his goal, but instead, he sacrifices the lives of others.
So which is Nick Kyrgios?
In temperament, it seems like he must be a villain. He swears, he throws chairs and just doesn’t care. But the defining factor of a hero is what they fight for. Do they fight for themselves or do they fight for others?
It is clear that Kyrgios cannot fight for himself. He is woefully disinterested in playing a tennis match for prize money and ranking points. His best results come when he has something to play for.
At the end of 2016, Kyrgios displayed one of the worst meltdowns the tennis world has ever seen, as he completely tanked his second-round match in Shanghai to Mischa Zverev. This resulted in a ban until mid-January of 2017, and an injunction that ordered him to see a sports psychologist. Only three months later, we were treated to a hot streak of in-form Kyrgios, which included match wins against Djokovic, Zverev and the greatest three-set match of all time, Federer def. Kyrgios – an electric, night-session semifinal in Miami. How is it possible that Kyrgios could turn around and play such inspired tennis in such a short time? Kyrgios had something to play for. He started the NK Foundation, an initiative to support underprivileged youth. Though the NK Foundation is still operational, the inspiration that fueled Kyrgios faded.
Now, we see Kyrgios thrive in team events. He has been an integral part of Team World in all three editions of the Laver Cup. Recently, we have seen him light up the court in the Davis Cup and the inaugural ATP Cup, where he posted huge wins in singles against Tsitsipas and in doubles against slam-champion, Jamie Murray. In team events, Kyrgios has more to play for than just himself. During the ATP Cup, he even explained that he struggles to be motivated in individual events.
Two days ago, he posted a convincing win at the Australian Open, over Sonego. In a pre-tournament interview he said, “But I think when I’m playing, at the moment, I’m playing for a lot more than myself. I feel like I’m getting the best out of myself with that.”
Those are the words of a man who’s playing with the bush-fire disaster on his conscience, the words of a man who’s playing with heart of Australia on his shoulders, the words of a man who’s playing for more than personal gain. Those are the words of a hero.
by Beckett Chung – contributor, tennis wizard, and integral part of The Slice.