Nick Kyrgios’ hype train may never have had as much steam as it does now.
The enigmatic Aussie is undefeated since reaching a maiden Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, winning the doubles title in Atlanta and most recently winning both singles and doubles in Washington, and is ranked No. 33 in the world and No. 21 in the world has catapulted points races despite not earning any ranking points for his efforts at SW19.
And when the train is going that fast, who’s one of the sport’s big hype dealers to hit the brakes?
“I’ve always knocked on the door of a singles title [this season]. I’ve been waiting for this. I felt like I was by far one of the best players in the world this year,” said Kyrgios after beating Yoshihito Nishioka 6-4, 6-3 to claim the seventh title of his career but the first Singles win since the same tournament in Washington three years earlier.
“I think if I had points from Wimbledon I would be getting closer to the top 10. So I feel like I really reinvented myself this year.”
He’s right that there was a focus at key moments that made the 27-year-old look different on the global stage. En route to the final Wimbledon loss to Novak Djokovic, a keen observer will have noticed that his outbursts of anger and trickery, of which there is roughly equal measure in every game, come at specific moments: the one-sided screaming competition with his box is one expression from stress and usually starts when it recedes; “tanking,” he freely admits, is a tactic used to unsettle his opponent; Forearm serves and trick shots appear most often when he’s comfortably in front. With the forearm serve, you can almost set the clock to 40:0 in the first set.
So maybe Kyrgios isn’t so mysterious after all. Maybe we’re all starting to have a much better understanding of what Nick Kyrgios is and isn’t because we’re seeing him play at the highest level on a regular basis. But the Aussie is hoping he can match that familiarity with a touch of invincibility.
“I think you have a little window after a Grand Slam where people kind of fear you before stepping onto the pitch,” added Kyrgios.
“I feel like I made the best of it this week.”
Wins in 13 games since then – if you factor in singles and doubles – won’t mitigate that “fear factor” much, but we should also be realistic about what those wins really mean. The doubles games, four of which are played alongside Thanasi Kokkinakis and three with Jack Sock, are another mainstay of his arc, but no Top 100 player is going to pay much heed to his results in the game’s far less desirable form. Joe Salisbury is world No. 1 in doubles but has never played in singles in the main draw of a slam.
Then we look at his singles run in Washington, and on closer inspection the results are a little less impressive: The only top 20 player he beat was Reilly Opelka, who has won just two games since May and won just 44 percent of them has his powerful first serves; in the final, he faced world No. 96 Nishioka after beating world No. 115 Mikael Ymer to get there.
He scored a notable win over Frances Tiafoe in an entertaining three-setter that lasted 149 minutes, a match you could watch over and over again for his shooting and for the 26-point tie-break in the second set.
But entertainment was never Kyrgios’ problem, it was achievement. Has he finally gotten over that hump? There are certainly results in his 2022 record that suggest he could have managed to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas (twice), Casper Ruud and Andrey Rublev, but his record against the top 20 in 2022 remains at six wins and seven defeats.
For that kind of form to lead to victory in New York, Kyrgios will need some help from the draw. He’s likely to get some as well, as his world rankings will now almost certainly earn him a seeded spot, protecting him from the top 30 players in the world in the first two rounds. And circumstances – Alexander Zverev’s injury and Novak Djokovic’s unvaccinated status – will protect him from two of the top 10 for the duration of the tournament.
But there is also the question of fitness. Kyrgios has never apologized for the tour schedule being too taxing for him, both physically and mentally, and his 34 tour-level singles matches – along with a healthy dose of doubles – make this the busiest year of his career on the pitch. His 2018 season was marred by an elbow injury and he received multiple shoulder treatments at Wimbledon.
And then there’s the noise outside the tennis court with Nick Kyrgios being extra loud this year more than ever. His hearing in an Australian court into a joint assault charge brought against him by his ex-girlfriend Chiara Passari has been postponed to August 23, although Kyrgios himself does not need to be there.
“I have people in my corner and I’m on my team that take care of those things,” he said last week.
“You are beyond my control. All I can do is just keep working and keep my head down and doing what I love to do every day and that is play tennis and inspire millions of people and enjoy the world with my beautiful girlfriend. “
He will be hoping to hedge against the media storm, which will be at its peak in Australia and no doubt somewhere around Flushing Meadows. It will not be easy.
As always with Kyrgios, there are many “ifs”. A few weeks later, however, there are fewer “buts” than ever. If not now then when?
Being ready is everything.