Kyrgios offers peek at his potential to apply himself

WASHINGTON • With Roger Federer turning 38 this week, and Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic five and six years younger respectively, the question of who next to dominate men's tennis after they retire looms ever larger.

For the past several years, Australia's Nick Kyrgios has danced in and out of that conversation as arguably the most talented player in the sport's much-ballyhooed next generation - yet, sadly, perhaps also its most erratic.

At 24, he boasts a serve that is close to unreturnable, eye-popping athleticism and a wild repertoire of shots from the sublime to the circus-like.

He also has an on-court demeanour that can turn on a dime - from tantrum-throwing toddler to world-class showman or, when he chooses, to ungodly gifted player who leaves opponents flat-footed and shaking their heads in awe.

This past week, he showed what is possible when he corrals his prodigious talent and chooses to compete for six straight days - long enough in this case to reach the final of the Washington Open.

And on Sunday, the unseeded Kyrgios overcame an ailing back, kept his temper in check, fed off the support of the Washington crowd and blasted 18 aces - with no double faults - to defeat third seed Daniil Medvedev, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-4), claiming the sixth ATP Tour title of his career and his second this season.

"We all know how Nick can play when he wants to, and this week, he wanted to play," said his Russian opponent. "It was tough."

Medvedev was the second top-10 player Kyrgios beat in as many days - he ousted top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece on Saturday - despite destroying a clutch of rackets amid bouts of rage and frustration.

But on Sunday, the world No. 27, who yesterday rose 25 places from 52nd after his Citi Open win, was a steadier player and better man, coming across as genuinely pleased with his achievement and grateful for the fans who cheered him all week.

"This has been one of the best weeks of my life - not just on the court but in my life," he said. "I feel like I've made major strides."

As Kyrgios, who so often has been the architect of his own undoing, explained after having time to reflect on his week's work, his success here was the result of a major change in his approach to tennis that started months ago.

He declined to provide details, but said it consisted of basic things, such as changing "a lot of unhealthy habits" and having the same routine every day, like "traditional tennis players".

It was a sharp contrast to the tempestuous player who earlier in his career acknowledged tanking at least half a dozen matches because he wanted to be somewhere else .

With his victory, Kyrgios will be seeded at the US Open later this month, and speaking like a man who has turned the page on a career that has under-delivered on its promise, he added: "This is only the beginning. I'm going to continue to go through with these habits."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2019, with the headline 'Kyrgios offers peek at his potential to apply himself'. Print Edition | Subscribe