For better or worse, Aussie teen Kyrgios’ emotions on sleeve
MELBOURNE, Australia — Nick Kyrgios knows how to entertain a crowd. He hits shots between his legs and around the net posts. He smashes rackets. He argues with the chair umpire and interacts with fans in the stands. He smashes more rackets.
And when he can control his explosive game and emotions, the crowd-pleasing Kyrgios has the talent to beat anyone on the biggest stages.
At a raucous Hisense Arena at the Australian Open on Sunday, the 19-year-old Australian did just that: he came back from two sets down and saved a match point before beating Italian Andreas Seppi 5-7, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 8-6 in a 3 1/2-hour match to reach the quarterfinals.
”This is actually the most nervous I’ve ever been,” he said. ”I am definitely feeling the pressure (playing at home), but at the same time I had so much fun out there.”
It was a reprise of his breakout performance at Wimbledon last year where he saved nine match points in a come-from-behind win over Richard Gasquet and then stunned the then-No. 1 Rafael Nadal to reach the quarters.
With both runs, Kyrgios is in elite company — the last man to reach the quarters at multiple majors as a teenager was Roger Federer in 2001.
Kyrgios credited the deafening, standing-room-only crowd with helping him pull through the match against Seppi, but credited himself, too, for keeping his volatile emotions in check when it mattered.
It didn’t start out this way. In the first set, he argued with the chair umpire repeatedly over a call and after dropping set point, smashing his racket with such force that it bent in half.
Though he kept up a stream of expletives and continually talked to himself –as well as the crowd — he also calmed himself down at critical moments, particularly in the fifth set when he let a 4-1 lead slip and had to fight off a break point at 4-all.
”I think I’m just managing my emotions a bit better out there,” he said. ”When I needed to get into the crowd, I did that. … I’m just learning every time I step out on the court when to show emotion, when not to.”
Kyrgios has been criticized for being too emotional in the past, including this week in the Australian media by former greats Fred Stolle and Pat Rafter. ”If you want to, call them antics or frustrations or temper,” Stolle said, ”but it’s something that he’s got to get rid of.”
But others have leapt to his defense — he has a fan club on Twitter that uses the hashtag #NKRising — and Kyrgios himself said playing to the crowd helps him overcome nerves and boosts his energy levels when he needs it.
His showmanship certainly livened up the crowd after he dropped the first two sets against Seppi. At one point in the fourth set, he hit a shot between his legs as he approached the net and, though he lost the point, the crowd roared.
He had them laughing, too, when he shouted to a couple who got up to leave in the fifth set, ”Hey, where are you going?”
If Kyrgios plays his next match against Andy Murray in front of 15,000 screaming fans at Rod Laver Arena — the biggest stadium at Melbourne Park — is opponent should expect quite the show.
”He’s dangerous. He’s unpredictable. He’s entertaining,” Murray said. ”I’m going to have to play a good match.”