Should Nick Kyrgios Give Ronnie O’Sullivan’s Saviour Steve Peters A Call?

During his defeat to Andy Murray, we saw some classic Kyrgios antics
08:00, 13 Jun 2022

Is it too late for Nick Kyrgios to be remembered by tennis as anything other than a petulant and obnoxious brat – with his on-court antics and regular outbursts all but eclipsing a sublime talent? 

The 27-year-old Australian has always had the ability to lose friends and alienate people, be they opponents, umpires or spectators. But that has sat alongside an ability to get fans out of their seats with scintillating serves, flashing forehands and dazzling displays of instinctive shot-making. 

It would be an intoxicating mix in any sport – the talented but flawed maverick battling inner demons, with Kyrgios admitting many times to suffering from mental health issues as he waged war against authority in most of its tennis forms. 

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But the balance has tipped significantly away from any real achievements in the game, and far more towards an embarrassing litany of controversy, conflict and clashed that have dogged his every step in the sport. 

Put simply, Kyrgios has always polarised opinion with the more twee followers and administrators of tennis not always the type to welcome the bad-boy presence in their midst. But even his defenders and backers appear to be starting to find it harder to make excuses for him – including this correspondent. 

The latest meltdown came during a straight-sets defeat to Andy Murray in the semi-finals of the ATP tournament in Stuttgart, with the Aussie docked a point for smashing his racket after losing the first set on a tie-break, and then a game after rowing with the umpire and a spectator. 

Kyrgios later claimed he had been racially abused from the crowd, and that is something that the ATP and tournament organisers must investigate seriously and properly, setting aside his previous track record for trouble-making and looking at the alleged racism case thoroughly and on its merits with any and all evidence that is available. 

But his latest collapse in the second set in Germany, from a player that has admitted ‘tanking’ or not trying on several occasions in the past - something that has also earned him fines – left even long-time friend and frequent public supporter Murray frustrated. 

The multiple Grand Slam winner at least expects a contest when he steps on court, and he admitted: “The second set was not much fun to play, it was not very competitive. It wasn’t really a match.” And this from a player that has always highlighted Kyrgios’s abilities and tipped him to one day win a Grand Slam. 

Paul Annacone, former coach to Roger Federer, raised eyebrows by stating in 2017 that Kyrgios was “the most talented player since Roger jumped on the scene”. The brilliance, though, has been only sporadic – and the reputation sullied by lack of success in the events that really matter, and the ever-growing rap sheet. 

It has already been a bad 2022. Kyrgios was docked a point and fined for unsportsmanlike behaviour and an audible obscenity in an Indian Wells quarter-final defeat to Rafael Nadal, a previous target for his ire.  In Miami he was fined again after being docked a point and then a game against Jannik Sinner. And in Houston he was docked a point after a series of foul-mouthed rants at the umpire when playing Reilly Opelka. 

And that merely adds to an unwanted CV in this respect, incidents of swearing at officials, smashing rackets, trash-talking opponents and not giving of his best peppering a nine-year pro career. And ‘box office’ must mean more than just controversy. John McEnroe was the enfant terrible of tennis in the late 1970s and then 1980s – but he had the big titles to back it up. 

Kyrgios has only ever reached the quarter-final of a Grand Slam twice, in the two places where he enjoys significant extra advantages – at Wimbledon on the faster grass, and in his home event in Melbourne at the Australian Open.  

And the chances of a magical and scarcely believable Goran Ivanisevic-style run to a Wimbledon title seem on the face of it beyond all rational consideration. To win a Slam, you need to hold it together for seven matches and over two weeks. Kyrgios increasingly appears to struggle to manage that over the course of a single set. 

And yet…and yet. There was a time when maybe you could have drawn temperamental if in no way achievement parallels between Kyrgios and snooker ace and seven-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who blessed with an even greater talent needed the helping hand of renowned sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters to fully deliver on his ability. 

In the 11 years they have worked together, the Rocket – for the most part – eased up on making quite so many derogatory comments about his own sport (very much a Kyrgios calling-card) and managed to treat triumph and disaster with something approaching equilibrium. This has helped him cope with the 17-day Crucible Theatre marathon another four times, after being on the point of quitting. 

And if Kyrgios wants something to really show for his talent, he could do a lot worse than getting Peters’ number off O’Sullivan, giving him a call, and give himself the best chance of enjoying a two-week glory run somewhere before it is too late. 

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