Nick Kyrgios is a 21-year-old loose cannon on the tennis court, but the sport needs him badly. The Australian has agreed to see a sports psychologist following his latest meltdown in Shanghai that saw him fail to compete properly and then try to – and fail – to explain himself to the media.
Kyrgios will see the psychologist because it cuts his playing ban from eight to three weeks and accepts the hefty fine because even at his tender age, money is not a problem.
What will be a problem is deciding what to do next with the bad boy of tennis who is also great box office.
Tennis cannot afford to have Kyrgios on the sidelines for long periods because to grow the game in new markets you need new faces to supplement those stars who are heading towards or have already reached 30-years-old. Yes, Roger Federer is still a star in his 30’s but injury is taking him out of the game far too regularly for the sport to be confident of a season long run with the greatest of all time in the tour bus. Novak Djokovic is going through mental problems at the moment while Rafa Nadal is battling back from yet another injury. Only Andy Murray appears able to stay on court at key moments in the year.
That is why the ATP, the governing body of the men’s game, needs to take extra care with Kyrgios whose personality reminds many of John McEnroe at his most brattish. However, McEnroe restricted himself to destructive behaviour and arguments while still playing “proper” tennis. Krygios gives up and refuses to return the ball and even serves like a school kid. McEnroe was never tamed, became a multi-Grand Slam winner and eventually saw the light – and endless re-runs of his meltdowns in middle age. He regretted some of the behaviour, but recognised it could not be divorced from the rest of his tennis career.
Kyrgios needs to understand the God-given talent he has been blessed with and how best to use it for the good of himself and the sport.
The danger of making Kyrgios follow a path laid down by a psychologist is that what makes him such a special talent could be diluted. Kyrgios is a complex character who may need that wild side of his personality to deliver his best tennis.
Is letting him run wild such a problem? Well, only if it impacts seriously on the wider game and delivers the kind of YouTube footage that brings the game in disrepute.
For Kyrgios and tennis to move forward, he needs more of the help Aussie Davis Cup captain and former World No1 Lleyton Hewitt has been offering. Kyrgios needs to respect the person giving him advice because that is the only way it will sink in. A psychologist picking up a hefty fee for listening to Kyrgios try to explain himself will be merely a box ticking exercise and that is how the Australian will view the sessions
Get him back onto the court, get him a mentor strong enough to live with Kyrgios and sit back and enjoy the tennis.