Sports | July 9, 2017 5:00 am

Does Rising Star Nick Kyrogios Want to Dominate Tennis?

The New Yorker serves up a profile on the complicated successor to Roger Federer.

Nick Kyrgios of Australia plays a forehand during his tennis match against Viktor Troicki of Serbia during day four of The Boodles Tennis Event at Stoke Park on June 30, 2017 in Stoke Poges, England.
Nick Kyrgios of Australia plays a forehand during his tennis match against Viktor Troicki of Serbia during day four of The Boodles Tennis Event at Stoke Park on June 30, 2017 in Stoke Poges, England. (Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Tennis fans should start learning to spell Nick Kyrogios’s name.

The twenty-two year old Australian, ranked twentieth in the world, is the only active tennis player ever to defeat Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in his first matches against the sport’s elite.

In fact, Kyrogios has beaten Nadal and Djokovic twice. Federer’s former coach even called him the most talented player since Federer jumped on the scene.

His temperament is becoming equally legendary. Kyrgios is known for his spectacular shots, but his matches have also featured epic displays of ranting, racquet-wrecking and trash-talking. The star went as far as trying to lose a match, “bopping in a serve like a beginner and starting to walk off the court before it bounced,” writes The New Yorker’s Louisa Thomas.

There have been setbacks. In May, an old injury had flared up and he had to change his game to limit the strain on his hip. During a match against the Nicolas Kicker, ranked ninety-fourth in the world, Kyrgios seemed increasingly bothered by his injury. Kyrgios was also distracted: His grandfather, who had helped raise him, had also died mere weeks before. In the end, Kicker won the match.

Kyrgios claims he does not want to be Federer. So what does he want to be? A profile in The New Yorker looks into the career and character of the young athlete.

People seem to have one of two varying opinions of the young athlete: Either he is wasting his gift with a bad attitude and terrible work ethic, or he is a talented kid who has struggled with his motivation but is maturing. He is either an embarrassment or the future of tennis.

He himself has acknowledged the image problem. “People tell me I need to change, but it has to come from me,” Kyrgios told The New Yorker. “I don’t think I want it enough.”

Kyrgios’ first love was basketball, not tennis, but by the time he was 10, he was playing in Australia’s 12-and-under national championships. He has said that tennis life is the same thing, every day. You train, get treatment, eat, sleep and get up to do it all over again. He called it unglamorous and exhausting, and said he gets “homesick, injured and bored.”

However, Paul McNamee, a retired Australian player and former CEO of the Australian Open, told The New Yorker that in his own way, Kyrgios is becoming more professional.

Though Kyrgios will say he plays tennis for the money, his agent, John Morris, said that he does it because he is a competitor. Those who know him well say he has an easy nature, and good sense of humor. But he still argues with umpires and smashes racquets, and has even been know to berate ball kids.

“Tennis, for me—it’s a completely different me,” he said. “The person I am on the court is not who I am off the court.”

After the Australian Open, Kyrgios says he thought about taking a break from tennis. But Lleyton Hewitt, a former champion who is now the captain of Australia’s Davis Cup team, urged Kyrgios to play in the tournament. Kyrgios saw it as a lifeline. He arrived in Melbourne fully committed. He helped lead practice sessions, spent extra time hitting balls with kids, embraced being a part of the team.

“I love being on the bench, supporting someone else,” Kyrgios said later. “I just love that you win together, you take a loss together.”

After his grandfather died, he took time off, then injured his hip when he re-entered the game. But he still vowed to play Wimbledon and thinks he can win. Is that what he truly wants?

“I just would like to be happy,” he said. “That’s a tough one for me.”