Two weeks ago Nick Kyrgios slouched away from the temporary Louis Armstrong Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre, discretely tucked away in the east corner of the complex, before settling into his chair in the press conference room and delivering his now customary post-Slam evisceration of his performance, his motivation and his career as a whole.
“I’m not dedicated to the game at all,” Kyrgios bemoaned for the nth time, adding pitifully that his coach, Sébastien Grosjean, deserved better.
“He’s very dedicated. He’s an unbelievable coach. He probably deserves a player that is probably more dedicated to the game than I am. He deserves a better athlete than me,” he pined.
“He’s helped me a lot, especially with the training, in training sessions, but there are players out there that are more dedicated, that want to get better, that strive to get better every day, [do the] the one-percenters. I’m not that guy.”
It didn’t take long for hacks around the world to reheat the What’s wrong with Nick Kyrgios? think pieces that have already been published a dozen times before. They all asked the same thing: Would the talented 22-year-old ever be able to retain his motivation for the sport and unlock the vast reserves of potential he quite clearly possesses?
The answer to the first part of that question, at least, appears to be a resounding yes – providing we are willing to take Kyrgios at his word.
Because less than 14 days after insisting he was more interested in playing basketball than tennis, a newly motivated Kyrgios has claimed that he will “run through brick walls” to help Australia win the Davis Cup this season.
As this year’s tennis turnarounds go, it’s up there with Juan Martin del Potro fighting back from two sets down to beat Dominic Thiem in the US Open fourth-round last week. But Kyrgios claims he’s far more comfortable with the team aspect of Davis Cup play, rather than playing in Grand Slam singles tournaments where there is nowhere to hide.
“Davis Cup has done wonders for me this year,” a reinvigorated Kyrgios said ahead of Australia’s semi-final tie against Belgium, which starts on Friday.
“I’m just a massive fan of team sports and that’s probably the closest thing we’ve got in tennis. I love getting out there with a team and getting behind everyone that I’m close with and trying to get the win for the country obviously.
“But just that whole week, building that chemistry with a team. I literally love playing for someone other than myself for once.”
Australian tennis fans will be delighted – and no doubt more than a little bit disbelieving – with the World No 20’s insistence that he is fit and firing for the clay-court clash. Kyrgios will spearhead the charge against a strong Belgium team featuring World No 12 David Goffin, as Australia attempt to reach their first Davis Cup final in 14 years.
“Our team’s feeling good,” Kyrgios added sensibly, in what must have been his most conventional press appearance in several weeks. “We played a great tie in Brisbane against the United States a couple of months ago and we’ve always been looking forward to this. We’ve always stayed in contact, we haven’t forgotten about it.
“Just thinking about it brings me so much excitement. To take home the trophy would be probably a dream come true for me.”
It is now up to captain Lleyton Hewitt, who was in his counterpunching prime when Australia last reached a Davis Cup final, to channel that excitement throughout the tie and the rest of the competition, with either France or Serbia waiting in the November final.
But beyond that, the responsibility to consistently try his best while out on the court – and not only when he is clad in the gold and green – rests solely on Kyrgios’ shoulders. The performances of Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev this year have shown that it will not be long before tennis’s next generation are ready to regular challenge for Grand Slam titles.
Kyrgios will not be able to rely on raw talent for much longer.