John McEnroe Discusses Kyrgios
At this point, the superficial comparisons between Nick Kyrgios, tennis’ sulking bad boy of the moment, and John McEnroe, tennis’ sulking bad boy of the ’80s, have grown so frequent as to become cliche. The comparison is tired not least because professional tennis has a list a mile long of players who were equally “bad.” Heck, Marat Safin, notorious during his playing days for living large, now spends his days as a member of Russian Parliament for the party of Vladimir Putin. “Care to hit some today, Mr. Safin?” “Oh, sorry, can’t today. Have to discuss the annexation of Ukraine and the repress- … ur … regulation of journalists.” It’s hard to get more bad boy than that. But the McEnroe comparisons are most frequent because of the charisma and natural talent possessed by both players. Read below for what happens when McEnroe discusses Kyrgios himself.
Bad Boys for Life?
The real reasons for the comparison is that both McEnroe and Kyrgios, more so than other players, elicit strong reactions from fans in the audience and on television. Both were/are unruly, both are given to tantrums, and both wear their emotions on their sleeves. But it takes just a little digging to realize that the comparisons end there.
Nick Kyrgios entered Wimbledon as a favorite to make a deep run (though not as a favorite to win — nobody but the Djoker was favored to win until Nole suffered a bout of mortality at the hands of some American named Sam Querrey). The Australian had recently won his first tournament, and his game has improved dramatically over the past year. He also seemed more focused than in the past, when fans and commentators accused him of tanking sets when the outcome looked stacked against him. And in the early rounds he played like a contender. He won a hard-fought first round match against Radek Stepanek, a former top-10 player from the Czech Republic. He followed that with a thrilling five set victory over Germany’s Dustin Brown and the always dangerous Feliciano Lopez of Spain. That victory set Kyrgios up with a much-anticipated fifth-round match against Andy Murray.
Here’s where we need to set the stage…
Not many folks, and certainly very few odds makers, would have given Kyrgios an edge in this match, and given the way Andy had played to that point, Kyrgios himself could be forgiven for lacking confidence in the outcome. But the matchup offered a prime chance to test his mettle and show off his strength against the number two player in the world on tennis’ biggest stage. Did Nick live up to the billing? No, he did not, and this is where the comparisons where McEnroe stop short.
The SuperBrat with a Super Heart
Few players in tennis history have approached the game with the sort of competitive drive as John McEnroe. His “Superbrat” persona and lack of decorum, so scrutinized in his early playing years, are viewed with nostalgia now. In exhibition matches and Champions events today, McEnroe behaves as a caricature of his old self. But this caricature masks the fact that his temper was driven by competitive instinct and inner drive. Kyrgios’ is driven by frustration and an inner discontent that threatens to put the drag on a very promising career. For evidence look no further than McEnroe’s own evaluation of Kyrgios’ situation.
Though McEnroe has publicly defended Kyrgios in the past, calling him tremendously talented and charismatic and comparing his energy to his own, Kyrgios’ antics were too much at Wimbledon. After playing a tight first 11 games, Kyrgios was broken and lost the first set 5-7, and that was all it took to remove him from the match. He barely went through the motions in the second set, at one point even transitioning sides without resting or taking water. He was mentally unfocused and a physical non-presence. The second set was closer, but by then the damage had been done. He had given up on himself and given up on giving the crowd a good show.
Evaluating the match, McEnroe posited that the Australian gave only an 80% effort (link to Guardian article where McEnroe discusses Kyrgios’ performance) in the match and, though he conceded Nick’s chance of winning was small, called the manner of his loss a “damn shame.”
“It’s not just the mental part,” said McEnroe. “He needs to work on his game. He doesn’t know what it takes to be a top-10 professional to win grand slams. I’m hoping he sees the writing on the wall before this becomes chronic, irreparable, because to me it’s getting to that point.”
This has not the first time McEnroe has raised those concerns. A year ago he said “the pressure’s getting to him” (link to old Sydney Morning Herald article where McEnroe discusses Kyrgios) while conceding that “as a 20-year-old kid, I did my share of dumb things, inappropriate things at times.” But did Johnny Mac ever fold sets or plain quit during matches? Hell no, and that’s why his advice to Kyrgios is so sage.
When McEnroe discusses Kyrgios, it’s relevant because the two have shared experiences. McEnroe knows about battling inner demons, and he knows the path out of that hole. If Kyrgios asked McEnroe (and he hasn’t), Johnny would tell him that to find a coach, a mentor. He needs better people around him, people who can motivate and, if need be, crack the whip.
Does Xbox Tennis Count as Practice?
In an interview after his Wimbledon loss, Kyrgios said, “To be honest, I woke up this morning and played computer games. Is that the greatest preparation? I don’t know. But it was fun. Like I’ve previously said, I don’t love the sport. But I don’t really know what else to do without it.” He also said, “One week I’m pretty motivated to train and play. I’m really looking forward to getting out there. One week I’ll just not do anything.”
If that sounds like vintage Andre Agassi, another player who claimed not to love tennis, remember that Andre eventually matured and thrived because he realized that self-destruction was far less emotionally satisfying than winning. Most people don’t love their job, and there exists a standard on the public’s part that professional athletes, because they make a living playing a game, all ought to love theirs. But it surely can be a grind like anything else. The difference is that by grinding it out and harnessing the talent he’s been blessed with, Nick Kyrgios can become a millionaire AND enter the record books. That sounds worth the effort fro most people. Let’s hope Kyrgios listens to the criticism and that the next time John McEnroe discusses Kyrgios, it will be to praise his newfound effort rather than to bemoan another tossed-off opportunity.