By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Sunday August 1, 2021
Nick Kyrgios has always had a love-hate relationship with professional tennis, and the Aussie pulled no punches as he talked about his past, present and future on Sunday during his pre-tournament press conference at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.
The 26-year-old World No.58 hinted that his days on tour could actually be numbered.
“Like every time I’m at a tournament, I feel like it could be my last time I’m ever going to be here,” Kyrgios said. “In Atlanta I felt the same way. Washington. I don’t know. I don’t know where I’m at. I feel weird. I feel strange about my career at the moment.”
Kyrgios, a former World No.13 with six ATP titles to his name, has certainly carved his own path on tour. Controversial, enigmatic and wildly entertaining, he has been a polarizing figure, known for his ability to shock and entertain even more than his ability to lock down wins.
But as he has matured, Kyrgios has made peace with himself and the rules of the game, and he has endeared himself to fans across the sport, for his unique talents and his willingness to tell it like it is and conduct his career on his terms.
He has only played seven events since the start of 2020, and he isn’t sure how many more he will play, but he does know that what drives him now is the fun to be had, rather than simply winning.
“I feel as if I’m not playing for myself any more,” Kyrgios, who will face American Mackenzie McDonald in first-round action at the Citi Open. “I feel like I’m kind of playing for a lot of people who can relate to me. I feel like when I was young, I didn’t really have goals to win slams or anything like that. I mean, I didn’t love the sport.
“Obviously became kind of good, I guess. Then I beat all the top players, won some titles. Feel like I’ve been pretty iconic in the sport in the sense of doing it my own way, bridging the gap between I think basketball and tennis is there now. I’ve accomplished a lot.”
More than anything Kyrgios has seemed to enjoy inspiring others, not just to become tennis stars, but to become themselves. He is proud of his rapport with fans and happy that he has shared details of his dark days on tour, when he felt persecuted for a number of reasons but still found a way to persevere.
I also asked Kyrgios what it would take to get him to play more frequently
Did not expect the answer that followed. Definitely explains his hesitancy to play a full compliment of tournaments, as well as the burden he feels he carries as a notable personality on tour #CitiOpen pic.twitter.com/n1skRdA75h
— Alex Gruskin (@GreatShotPod) August 2, 2021
“I enjoy now playing just for fun,” he said. “I really do enjoy just being around fans, just talking with them, getting to know what they do. It was just, like, some touching moments that I remember, my favorite parts of my career, just being with fans, giving them some hope.”
Kyrgios speaks from a unique perspective. He has been through a lot on tour, playing the villain at times ,and at others the hero
“Deep down I know that I’m great for the sport,” he said. “Like, you need personalities like that. … I feel like I’m just resilient. If someone is not as resilient as me mentally, the amount of hate I got, the amount of racism I got, the amount of bullshit that I got from the tour, from fans, from everything.”
Kyrgios says he has taken more than his share of abuse, and he is happy to now see that the public is starting to allow players more space to simply be themselves rather than judging them so quickly, and harshly. In an age where athletes’ mental health are being taken into consideration more than ever, Kyrgios has embraced the opportunity to speak about his struggles with the goal of helping others.
“I did fall into places where people like Naomi Osaka are now speaking about mental illness where I was going through, in my personal opinion, 20 times as bad,” he said. “All they receive is good press. They don’t really receive hateful messages. They don’t really receive ridiculously historic fines for hitting balls out of the stadium or getting a code violation. I was dealing with, like, not even close to the amount of stuff that was going on.
“That’s what I think. Instead of out-casting and almost crucifying a personality, you say, Okay, this guy is different, let’s act a certain way, let’s not treat him like a Roger Federer or like a Marin Cilic. He’s his own person. I’m just saying this sport could have driven me into a place of dark, which it did for a bit, how mentally tough it was for 18, being one of the most well-known players in Australia, getting absolutely hammered with media. It’s not so easy.
“Now I’m 26, I I’m old enough. I know it’s all bullshit. I feel like tennis really struggled embracing personalities earlier on in my career.”