Watching Nick Kyrgios play conjures a wide range of emotions. He'll occasionally leave us in awe of his breathtaking natural talent, but the 21-year-old Aussie is just as likely to spread utter bewilderment.
His effort at the Shanghai Rolex Masters unfortunately falls into the latter category.
During his second-round match against 110th-ranked Mischa Zverev, the combustible Kyrgios went up in flames. Acting like he didn't even want to be on the court, Kyrgios wouldn't hang around long, bounced 6-3, 6-1 in a 48-minute sideshow.
Arguing with chair umpire Ali Nili and getting into it with fans, an unhinged Kyrgios barely tried on certain points, like when he casually hit a serve badminton-style and strolled to his seat. As the crowd showered him with boos, Nili warned Kyrgios about his behavior.
Nick Kyrgios: The Mario Balotelli of the tennis world pic.twitter.com/NqiHp2ehdQ— Max Bentley (@MaxBentley1) October 12, 2016
"Can you call time so I can finish this match and go home?"
Those were actual words from Kyrgios to Nili during one changeover. At least he showed some emotion on this otherwise listless day.
With displays like that, you have to wonder if Kyrgios will ever figure it out—or if he wants to.
He's openly talked about how he prefers basketball to tennis to The Independent's Paul Newman (h/t Tennis.com's Kamakshi Tandon). Only Kyrgios knows how much he truly loves the game, but it's becoming harder to justify the type of behavior he exhibited in Shanghai. Even he acknowledged his disappointment with how things turned out.
Not good enough today on many levels, I'm better than that. I can go on about excuses but there are none. Sorry #StillAWorkInProgress 🙏🏽😢😞— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) October 12, 2016
It's a testament to Kyrgios' tremendous abilities that we care this much about his direction on the court. The sky is the limit for him. There's so much potential brewing within Kyrgios, but whether it'll ever surface is an unknown.
Last week, Kyrgios won his biggest title yet in Tokyo, rising to a career-best ranking of No. 14. There, he looked composed and driven. His play offered optimism that just maybe he was ready to turn over a new leaf.
And then Shanghai happened.
Trying to decipher what exactly went on in Kyrgios' head throughout his loss to Zverev is a futile exercise. Discerning to say the least considering all his past foibles, he missed out on a real opportunity to close in on cracking the top 10 and qualifying for the ATP World Tour Finals for the first time.
The narrative could be so much different with him. But instead of being a consistent player who challenges for majors or Masters Series titles, his antics hold him back.
After Kyrgios' subpar performance against Andy Murray at Wimbledon earlier this summer, ESPN commentator and former world No. 1 John McEnroe told the BBC (h/t the Daily Mail's Stuart Fraser and Nick Harris): "Kyrgios has got to look in the mirror if he wants to become a top player and win Grand Slams."
Apparently that moment of soul-searching hasn't come yet for the volatile Kyrgios. Will it ever?
We saw him defeat Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon two years ago and Roger Federer in Madrid last spring. This season alone, Kyrgios owns six victories over top-10 players. When engaged, he can hang with (and beat) the best. It's a shame we don't see that side of him more often.
In a piece for the Telegraph, Charlie Eccleshare tried to place himself in Kyrgios' shoes: "He has been blessed with an immense amount of talent, but maybe he hasn't been blessed with the gift of accepting that his life must be solely about tennis until he is 35 and only then can he think about something else."
That's a fair point to consider. At such a young age, he deals with an immense level of scrutiny about his every move. Sometimes it's easy to forget athletes have a life outside of their respective sport, and Kyrgios certainly doesn't seem like the type of guy who'll sacrifice his personal satisfaction for the whims of fans.
But as a professional, Kyrgios should still recognize the standard he's being held to. And performances like he had in Shanghai only dig him a bigger hole of criticism.
Kyrgios is at a fork in the road. It's up to him to decide if he wants to take the path to greatness or the one to oblivion.
All statistics are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com unless otherwise noted.
Joe Kennard is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.