One year ago, almost to the day, former world number one John McEnroe referred to 21-year-old Nick Kyrgios as a “black eye for the sport.”
In the second round of last year’s Australian Open, Kyrgios was up in the first two sets against Andrea Seppi. But, midway through the third set, everything fell apart.
Aggravated by injury, Kyrgios elicited a code violation after yelling, “I didn’t sign up for this bullshit.” As the match progressed, he appeared increasingly uninterested, before eventually losing a round many believed he should have won.
As the year went on, the media worked hard to construct an image of a “tennis brat,” publishing pictures of Kyrgios out clubbing until 3am, only hours after pulling out of Wimbledon two sets into his first match.
“If you can be out at a nightclub you can play Wimbledon,” sports reporter Mark Beretta said at the time, which – to be clear – is not at all a true fact.
The jury had ruled. Kyrgios was entitled. Selfish. A waste of talent. A young man whose attitude and unsportsmanlike behaviour were frankly unforgiveable.
There was, of course, another way to read it.
Could he have been a man who was sad? All one had to do was tune into a postmatch press conference for a minute or two, to see his face oscillate between anguish and apathy. The angry toss of a tennis racquet looked a lot like a cry for help, from a man who did not know who he was without one in his hand.
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We expect sadness or anxiety to manifest itself in tears, but often it doesn’t. And rather than approach him with sympathy, we piled-on, yelling at him to get better.
And then, while no one was watching, something changed.
In September last year, Kyrgios wrote for Player’s Voice.
“I am not the person professional tennis needs me to be. That’s the truth,” he began. “There is a constant tug-of-war between the competitor within me wanting to win, win, win and the human in me wanting to live a normal life with my family away from the public glare.”