NEW YORK -- Nick Kyrgios did what he does best Monday night at the US Open. He turned a fairly benign match into a small spectacle. He cursed, he pouted, he feuded with the chair umpire over petty things, he argued with someone in his own box for wearing a mask and he smashed a ball out of Louis Armstrong Stadium. It delighted the crowd, which was resoundingly in his corner.
It did not, however, help him play particularly good tennis.
Kyrgios, the mercurial, cantankerous, uber-talented Australian player, saw his US Open come to a quick end with a decisive loss to Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-4, 6-0.
"Look, in the heat of the battle, when you're getting wiped off the court, it's never a good thing, so you try and outlet the pressure in many, many ways," Kyrgios said.
It was a match that would have been entirely unmemorable if Kyrgios hadn't tried his best, right from the start, to turn it into a small circus. He repeatedly snapped at chair umpire Carlos Bernardes when Bernardes asked him, early on, to place his towel closer to the bins against the wall behind the baseline after Kyrgios used it to wipe off sweat.
Kyrgios, to the audience's delight, reveled in antagonizing Bernardes throughout the first two sets, belittling him during changeovers and calling it a "f---ing joke, mate" that he had to walk "20 extra steps" to put his towel in its designated spot. But in Kyrgios' mind, there was a point to the theatrics. It's part of a small stand he believes he is taking because he's angry more professional tennis players aren't vaccinated.
"Look, the towel situation for me is incredibly stupid," Kyrgios said. "I'm one of the players on Tour that is fully vaccinated. And as of now, I'm getting treated exactly the same as a player that is not vaccinated. I feel like if I want my towel around the court, if it's not disturbing Bautista Agut's vision, if he doesn't see the towel, I don't see anything wrong with having my towel on the side or on the ground. And it's just absurd for me."
Like a petulant child who keeps edging closer and closer to the line to determine whether he's actually going to be punished, Kyrgios continued to make an issue of his towel placement while Bautista Agut, the tournament's 18-seed, ran him ragged with a series of powerful groundstrokes. Despite the fact that Kyrgios has the more powerful serve, Bautista Agut won 80% of his first-serve points; Kyrgios won just 59%.
Kyrgios' heart barely seemed in it as the match wore on. He grumbled about the speed of the court (too slow), about the time the match started (midnight) and about Bernardes any time the veteran chair umpire looked in his direction. At one point, Kyrgios was mad when he spotted Bernardes drinking water when Kyrgios hadn't had a chance to get a new bottle for himself. By the third set, Kyrgios wasn't even trying to sustain rallies; he appeared to be going after the ball as hard on every swing, producing a few spectacular shots but no spirited comeback. He won just six total points in the last set.
"I just got outplayed, to be honest," Kyrgios said. "All credit to him; he's a hell of a player. I had a break point in the first set, unfortunately didn't take it, and little things like that can turn a match when you play a world-class player like Roberto."