Forgive tennis fans who are holding their breath at the prospect of Nick Kyrgios falling down at Wimbledon 2015. It’s been a long time since men’s tennis has had a breakout star who can come in and win big titles at an early age.
Maybe nobody is expecting Kyrgios to win tennis’ greatest title over the next two weeks, but his performance could indicate his readiness to either compete or show inconsistent results on the ATP Tour. Is he very special, or is he just another talented youngster who will need to learn to take his lumps over the years?
Born in the 1990s
After epic results from the Big Three who were born in the 1980s (Roger Federer 1981, Rafael Nadal 1986 and Novak Djokovic 1987), we’ve seen other late-blooming championship results from Juan Martin del Potro (1988), Andy Murray (1987), Stan Wawrinka (1985) and Marin Cilic (1988).
They have more than made their mark in tennis history, and more importantly they continue to win championships as they enter or finish the latter years to their careers.
Meanwhile, promising young players born in the 1990s have been shut out from major titles and have hardly challenged for Masters 1000 titles. We’ve been teased by their mini-highs and frustrated by their funks. Last year at Wimbledon, Milos Raonic (born 1990) and Grigor Dimitrov (born 1991) both reached the semifinals and were seemingly ready to contend for a lot more future major titles.
No. They continue to be tennis’ version of The Lost Generation.
Raonic has battled injuries and despite his big serve may never have the skills or opportunity needed to win a major. Dimitrov’s spectacular skills are strangely coupled with passive, defensive play and nearly a year of fading play. They’re already in their mid 20s.
Meanwhile other young potential stars born in the 1990s have been turned back as if this is supposed to be the way it is on today’s more veteran-laden ATP tour. Aussie Bernard Tomic (born 1992) has more than tennis issues to sort out, but his game lacks the punch or persistence, let alone the personal commitment to be a star.
We’ve sorted out the reasons before, beginning with the Big Three and their astonishing longevity at the highest level. We acknowledge the greater demands for fitness and strength as veterans like Wawrinka push through rather than become pushovers. Thirty years old in tennis typically meant retirement. Now the 30s are becoming the new 20s, and winning championships seems not only possible but very likely.
All of which makes it crowded at the top where youngsters like Dominic Thiem, Jiri Vesely, Borna Coric and Thanasi Kokkinakis can hardly get a glimpse. Which brings us to Nick Kyrgios.
Kyrgios the Exception or Just Another Passerby?
The buzz around Kyrgios grew much louder at 2014 Wimbledon when he survived match points and a five-set thriller against Richard Gasquet. In the fourth round, he defeated superstar Rafael Nadal behind an awesome, powerful serving display and his wicked, ferocious forehand that was unafraid of conventional limits or percentages.
To date, he has that Wimbledon quarterfinals appearance, the 2015 Australian Open quarterfinals and a win over Roger Federer at Madrid. He has the bearings and competitiveness to challenge the very best stars on the biggest stages. He’s more fire than ice, more likely to be a revolution than a revival. Tennis broadcaster and American legend John McEnroe even called Kyrgios the most likely young player to be the next big thing in tennis, according to his comments in Tennis View:
The sky is the limit for Nick Kyrgios. If I had to pick one guy in the world, under 22, who has the greatest chance of making the biggest impact, it’s Nick. He has the potential to be an incredible shining star. When I saw him at Wimbledon, when he made his breakthrough, I thought this guy is going to be top five in the world for sure.
Last week McEnroe continued to praise Kyrgios, picking him as the possible X-factor to shake up Wimbledon 2015, saying in ABC.net Australian:
"He is close to being ready to make a big breakthrough.If I had to pick one guy, I wouldn't pick him to win but I would think, if there was someone other than the obvious guys, he would be the guy that I would pick more so than a year ago when I would have said a (Grigor) Dimitrov-(Novak) Djokovic final."
No pressure, right?
Nobody will be completely shocked if he does one day win major titles, but it also does not feel like it can just suddenly happen, because it’s been a long time since someone as young as Kyrgios won a major (Nadal French Open 2005). We’ve become used to the idea that these young players will occasionally bite, but that they will then swim away for weeks or months at a time before resurfacing.
Kyrgios is ranked No. 29 in the world, but listing him No. 8 in our power rankings was met with more skepticism and indifference. Few really invest in the idea of young players making their mark, probably and especially because the Lost Generation has been seen as a failure to this point.
The good news for Kyrgios was an easy straight-sets 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win in the first round. He will be heavily favored to topple clay-court veteran Juan Monaco in the second round.
Then a true measuring-stick match against likely opponent Raonic, who vanquished Kyrgios a year ago. This might show how much either player has moved forward, while also determining who can become the alpha dog of those born in the '90s. It could also show if he is going to need more years of growing pains
If Kyrgios loses, he could be looking at years as just another prospect occasionally cleaning up on the scraps of the Big Three and hoping veterans like Murray, Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych hang up their rackets sooner rather than later.
Another Wimbledon leap forward for Kyrgios, including, and fittingly enough, through Raonic and Dimitrov, could see him get a crack at the likes of Wawrinka and Djokovic. Obviously defeating three or more of them would be impressive and bang a louder gong for his legitimacy as a future star.
Even so, there will be a lot of work to do, a lot of grinding on the tour and a lot of work on fitness and strength. There will be confrontations on just how much he loves tennis and if he wants to be fully committed to his profession. Andrew Webster of the Sydney Morning Herald even wrote an abrasive Down Under piece that questioned if it was getting too hard to love Kyrgios.
These are not quick answers or results, and it will take months at least, probably years ahead, to prove his mettle as a champion or if Kyrgios is just a showman posing as a tennis player while burning uncomfortably inside.
Wimbledon 2015 is only one step for Kyrgios, but it could be important. We will watch with interest.