There have been a number of immensely successful Australian tennis players down the years. Think Rod Laver, Lleyton Hewitt and Margaret Court to name but a few. In recent times, one player has been billed as the country’s next big thing and the one who can provide the next chapter of success in Australia’s rich tennis history. Nick Kyrgios has had an interesting first period to his career, with on-court controversy perhaps overshadowing his ability and performances to date. He is a young man of vast talent but has so far only showed it sporadically. This needs to be the season when he starts to really fulfil his potential.
The 20 year-old has made a pretty good start of it. In fact, after reaching the semi-finals of the Miami Open, he has broken into the world’s top 20 for the very first time and is the youngest to do so in 7 years. He has also recently become Australia’s number 1 male player for the first time. The man from Canberra won his first ever Masters ATP Title last month in Marseille, dispatching Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet and Marin Cilic on his way to the trophy. He was equally impressive in the Dubai Open, reaching another semi-final, with injury eventually forcing his retirement against double Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka. Furthermore, he played a pivotal role in leading his country to the Hopman Cup title at the start of the year. If the opening months of the season are anything to go by, he may well be beginning to find the consistency that had previously dissertated him when competing for titles and taking on the game’s top players.
Despite only turning professional in 2013, the same year in which he won the Boys’ Australian Open and the Boys’ Doubles at Wimbledon, some will argue it is about time that he started to make more of an impact on the men’s Tour. Kyrgios turns 21 imminently but has only reached two ATP Tour finals to date. Although two Grand Slam quarter-finals have been reached his current career win to loss ratio hardly indicates that he could soon be regularly taking on the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in the sport’s biggest finals. Being too critical may be somewhat premature but the point remains – someone touted as a future star of the game should be doing more in the present to justify such claims. To put it into context, before the age of 22 Roger Federer had already appeared in 12 Tour finals, Andy Murray 16, Novak Djokovic 26 and Rafael Nadal a staggering 46. Big names indeed but the ones that Kyrgios has been predicted to one day emulate.
Nonetheless, recent quotes from fellow players demonstrate an increasing belief that this campaign could be the one in which the Australian steps it up. The American John Isner has predicted that 2016 will be Kyrgios’s year, whilst world number 1 Djokovic was gushing in his praise when stating that he deserves to be where he now is competing at the highest level and describing him as unique. Certainly the weapons in Krygios’s armoury are mightily impressive. He has great firepower from both wings, is agile on the court for someone of his height and has an excellent serve. At the recent Miami Open he wasn’t broken once en route to the semi-final. He is a threat on all surfaces and has shown more than once that he can change it up and play with variety from the back of the court or the net. The theory goes that all the pieces are there for a great champion. All Kyrgios needs to do is start stringing them all together at once.
The man who started off playing tennis at the age of 6 with his mother now has the opportunity to really make his mark upon the Tour, especially in the Grand Slams. Rising 22 places in the rankings since February shows that he has momentum. The question is whether he can bring that into the Slam events that define the season. There was no shame in losing out to Berdych in the last 32 of the Australian Open, although his higher ranking will now give him a better chance of avoiding the big guns so early on. He is heading towards the clay court season and the French Open with a newfound mentality of winning important matches before Wimbledon and the grass courts that he admits are his favourite surface. Indeed who can forget his debut at the All England Club in 2014 when he knocked out Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet on the way to the quarter finals? Getting to the same stage should now be his minimum target there and at the French and US Opens. The fact that he has chosen to take a short period off to ready himself physically and mentally for the significant times ahead suggests he is more focused than ever before.
The aim for Kyrgios should be to break into the top 10 this season. He needs to be consistently playing in the latter stages of tournaments. To do so, his fiery and volatile temperament needs to be placated. Too often his chances are scuppered by a lack of concentration when on-court emotions come to the fore. He has all the weapons a tennis player could possibly want in his arsenal but his shot selection also needs to improve. The current physical limitations in longer contests should vanish as he continues to develop.
You will struggle to find a more exciting and intriguing player right now than Nick Kyrgios. Nor one with such a capacity for long-term brilliance. This season could be a defining one in his fledgling career and the clearest indication yet of whether he has it in him to make the most of his obvious talent.
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