NEW YORK -- Nick Kyrgios. Discuss.
It would make a good exam topic, if only there were a chance that any students would be able to fathom the career of a man blessed with talent and athleticism but seemingly riddled by self-doubt, lack of belief and a body that consistently fails him.
Tipped, yet again, as having an outside chance for the title, the 22-year-old's US Open hopes went down in a flurry of confusion Wednesday, beaten 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1 by fellow Australian John Millman, a man ranked 218 places below him at No. 235. It was yet another disappointing result for a player once marked out as a future world No. 1. He has become a walking contradiction, a player capable of stunning quality but unsure what he wants and if he is willing to do it.
In terms of the match, it was just your average couple of hours with Nick Kyrgios. Mistakes in the first set, a great second set with some massive serving, a warning for swearing which he disputed, an ongoing conversation with his mum and support team in the stands, a smashed racket that was so mangled he couldn't fit it back in his bag and a sorry last set when he felt unable to compete with Millman, a gutsy competitor fighting back from injury who is as dedicated as Kyrgios is confused.
"I'm not dedicated to the game at all," Kyrgios said in a postmatch news conference that began with short, cursory answers and ended up being more akin to what you might expect to hear on the psychiatrist's coach. Asked if he would be extending his deal with his coach, Sebastien Grosjean, Kyrgios was honest, almost to a fault.
"I'm not good enough for him," he said. "He's very dedicated. He's an unbelievable coach. He probably deserves a player that is more dedicated to the game than I am. He deserves a better athlete than me. He's helped me a lot, especially in training sessions. But you know what I mean. There are players out there that are more dedicated, that want to get better, that strive to get better every day, the one-percenters. I'm not that guy."
Doesn't he want to get better? Doesn't he see a time when he might be able to become that dedicated? "I really don't know," he said. "Probably not, honestly not.
"Like in Cincinnati, I was not doing anything different. I was probably less dedicated than I was this week. I was playing basketball at Lifetime Fitness every day for two hours. Like I played an hour of basketball before I played David Ferrer in the semifinal. I was going to ice cream, like this Graeter's place, getting a milkshake every day. I was less dedicated. And this week I was dedicated, and my shoulder starts hurting. I don't know."
What's so frustrating is that Kyrgios had displayed, in the weeks leading up to the US Open, a level of form that shows he is capable of better. He'd reached his first Masters 1000 final in Cincinnati just 10 days earlier, and a good week's practice here had left him confident that he might be able to reach the last 16, where Roger Federer would likely be waiting. And yet, he ended up winning just two matches in the four Grand Slam events in 2017. "I have had a diabolical year at these Slams," he said. "It doesn't surprise me. It's just the story of my career, really. I will have good weeks; I'll have bad weeks. It's just a roller coaster."
The only good thing about the match was that Kyrgios didn't actually stop, even if he checked out mentally as the result became increasingly predictable. He may yet fulfill his pledge to play doubles here, out of loyalty to partner Matt Reid, another Australian, and he still hopes to play for his country in the Davis Cup semifinal against Belgium in two weeks.
He is committed to trying to win the Davis Cup and yet he says he can't commit to being the best he can be. What must Lleyton Hewitt, Australia's Davis Cup captain and a former world No. 1, a man who gave 100 percent in every single match he ever played, think of it all?
There have been moments of brilliance from Kyrgios this year, notably in Miami and Indian Wells in March, when he reached the quarters and semis respectively, knocking off Novak Djokovic and twice beating rising star Alexander Zverev.
He has little trouble, in fact, getting himself motivated to play the big guns. It's the run-of-the mill players, the boring part of his job, who cause him the most trouble. And then, his body lets him down, too. Hip and shoulder injuries have blighted his efforts this year -- he retired from three consecutive tournaments this summer, including Wimbledon -- and the shoulder was ailing here.
Hewitt, a man who picked up the mantle of Australian tennis from the legends of the past and played with his heart on his sleeve, would love to pass it on to Kyrgios. But unless Kyrgios finds a desire from inside him, and soon, his talent will go to waste.