Nick Kyrgios: Why 'bad boy' needed to remind us he is 'pretty good' at tennis

By Sonia OxleyBBC Sport at Wimbledon
Nick Kyrgios
Nick Kyrgios reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2014
Wimbledon 2022 on the BBC
Venue: All England Club Dates: 27 June-10 July
Coverage: Live across BBC TV, radio and online with extensive coverage on BBC iPlayer, Red Button, Connected TVs and mobile app.

Nick Kyrgios' new tattoo reads 'Give a man a mask and he will become his true self'.

But in his case, which persona is the mask?

Is it the 'bad boy'? Is it the generous philanthropist? Or is it even the talented tennis player?

After reaching the Wimbledon third round on Thursday with a business-like victory featuring none of his trademark antics, the Australian said he "just wanted to remind everyone" he is "pretty good" at tennis.

He cannot really blame people if they had forgotten.

But this is a player whose natural talent has been ranked among the greats and who, when he is completely focused on his tennis, can beat the very best.

Is that Nick Kyrgios' true self and are we about to see that at Wimbledon this year?

'More talent than Federer'

"He's got as much talent, if not more talent, than Roger Federer or John McEnroe," former British number one Greg Rusedski said of Kyrgios last year.

And seven-time Grand Slam singles champion McEnroe himself has described the 27-year-old as "the most talented player" he had seen in the past 10 years.

Yes, that's a decade when Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - who have 62 major titles between them - have all been active.

McEnroe, like Kyrgios, was of course well known for his on-court outbursts, but still focused enough on his game to win the titles and put in the hard work.

Kyrgios has previously said he finds training "boring" and he "can't play tennis for more than two hours".

He does not have a coach, preferring to do research into other players himself and has said he feels "like tactically... one of the best players on tour".

And on his day, he can back this up.

He boasts a 2-0 winning record against Djokovic, has beaten Nadal three times and Federer once.

But it has not translated into the major titles that many would have predicted for him when he was ranked junior world number three, with his best Grand Slam singles performances a pair of quarter-finals. The first of those came in 2014 was when he was 19.

Kyrgios has won six titles on the ATP Tour and reached a career-high world ranking of 13 in 2016.

Currently 40th in the world, he has come into some good form on grass in the build-up to Wimbledon, reaching the semi-finals in Halle and Stuttgart.

His run in Halle included victory over world number five Stefanos Tsitsipas, who he faces on Saturday for a place in the last 16 at the All England Club.

If the Australian can put in the kind of showing he did against Serbian 26th seed Filip Krajinovic in the second round on Thursday, where he lost only nine points on his serve in an 85-minute straight-set thrashing, then Tsitsipas could well taste defeat again.

But, with Kyrgios, a lot might depend on....

The other side

After his victory over Krajinovic, Kyrgios told a news conference: "People just don't give me the respect sometimes because of other things that I do."

He cannot be talking about the fun antics, the incredible trick shots, the underarm serves - compelling viewing that always makes him a huge draw for fans.

Or even the often humorous interactions with those watching - that is the personality that makes him box-office gold.

Instead, it's the other on-court action that ends up crossing the line into territory where fines and bans are issued.

As recently as Tuesday he admitted to spitting in the direction of a spectator - he has since been fined $10,000 (£8,200) for his conduct in that first-round match.

Countless episodes of racquet smashing, rants at umpires and other disputes with officials, fans and players have dominated his matches over the years.

In 2019 he received a suspended 16-week ban for "aggravated behaviour" and he has served an eight-week ban for perceived lack of effort.

Every time there is a hint Kyrgios might be putting those days behind him, something seems to boil over and the public forgets the tennis.

Maybe he is talking about a different type of mask...

During the early days of the Covid pandemic, Kyrgios delivered food to people's doorsteps and, in a social media message, he offered his help to anyone who might need it.

"Don't be afraid or embarrassed to send me a private message," he wrote at the start of those mask-wearing times. "I will be more than happy to share whatever I have. Even just for a box of noodles, a loaf of bread or milk. I will drop it off at your doorstep, no questions asked."

That came just a few months after he had raised money to help during the Australian bushfires, making donations for every ace he hit.

Kyrgios was moved to tears when speaking about the fires at the time. We saw yet another side too as he revealed he had found his "purpose" in building a facility for disadvantaged children.

"Tennis is a great life - we are well paid and the perks are pretty good - but it can feel empty if you're just doing it for the money," he wrote on his foundation's website. "I now know what it's all for."

Not too long after that, he won a first Grand Slam doubles title alongside Thanasi Kokkinakis at their home major at the Australian Open this year.

If Nick Kyrgios' mask is his antics - then his true self must be a motivated man who plays great tennis.

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