Bad boy of tennis comes of age

File photo shows Nick Kyrgios during the Davis Cup World Group playoff against Andrej Martin of Slovakia in Sydney, Australia, in 2016.(IANS)

Nick Kyrgios maintains a unique record in tennis — he has defeated Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic in his very first encounter with each of the titans of tennis, not to mention that he holds a 2-0 head-to-head stats against Djokovic. Only Andy Murray remains a hard nut to crack for the 21-year-old Aussie hothead.

Kyrgios already has a bad boy label pinned on him, which can’t be deemed unfair for he has let his eccentricities take centrestage time and again, taking up the role of an entertainer happily, offering some theatrics in the form of obscenity code violation, tanking, and several other tantrums. The bad boy definitely has fans, but for the connoisseurs of tennis, the young man’s verbal paroxysms are appalling. They don’t find it funny when he remarks that he doesn’t love the game, rather casually. The tennis pundits who see the potential in the young man believe all those caprices are a hinderance to his path to success.

Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe happened long time back. Nowadays the upper echelons of the game aren’t into showboating; they thrill us with scintillating performance on court instead. Yes Kyrgios can easily switch to that mode, and that’s what he showed against Novak Djokovic at Acapulco quarterfinals earlier this month (7-6 7-5), and at Indian Wells this week (6-4 7-6), when he put Djokovic’s three years winning streak to an end, denying the defending champion even a single break point. For a change, it was the world No: 2 who lost his cool against Kyrgios the during the match.

The youngster exuded brilliance, and was able to put pressure on Djokovic with his impeccable serve coupled with agility and great footwork. Most importantly, he was able to maintain his cool against the defending champion.Kyrgios has time and again proved that he can hold his nerve when facing the Goliaths, corroborating the fact that the biggest wins of his career weren’t fluke.

Currently ranked No: 16, Kyrgios has reminded us again of his killer instinct that could make him a Grand Slam champion one day, as we are almost done with waiting to see a Grigor Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori, or Milos Raonic — the trio who have been lingering in the sub-zone for long — do that job.

Tennis guru Nick Bollettieri once said that Kyrgios has got the character which can propel him to great heights if he could tame himself a bit, throwing a positive light on his engaging personality on court. Perhaps the Aussie could have reminded Bollettieri of the latter’s protégé Andre Agassi, another crowd puller who has eight Majors to his name.

Kyrgios made his presence felt in the circuit in 2014, a year after turning pro, when he thwarted  two-time champion Nadal in R16 at Wimbledon — 7-6 , 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 — as a wild card entrant.

A year later he shocked Roger Federer, his idol, in the first round of Madrid Masters in another nerve-racking encounter — 6-7, 7-6, 7-6. But soon, the young annihilator started making headlines for all the wrong reasons, and he even seemed relishing that bad boy tag.

Kyrgios’ back-to-back win over Novak Djokovic this season has taken us back to our first impression of him — that of an iconoclast. He himself said in a post match interview that his mentality is improving, and is trying really hard to fight for every point and just compete.

Perhaps it’s time for us to judge him from a different vantage point, to see the calibre behind all that sassiness. The wait now is for a Grand Slam title.