Imagine this Nick Kyrgios on the world stage.
This Kyrgios then sledgehammers his way through the Citi Open singles draw to plant himself in Sunday’s final. And unfortunately for Yoshihito Nishioka, who had upset the top seed Saturday, he would have no shot against this Kyrgios — the insanely talented player who decides to care over the span of a few days and ends up dominating.
If tennis could get this Kyrgios on a consistent basis, then fans in this country wouldn’t be desperate for the next American male Grand Slam champion. They would be satiated by the Nick Kyrgios Experience: watching the Australian’s masterful serves, ooooo-ing at his beautiful shots, nervously laughing at his random beef with ballboys and, all things considered, enjoying some pretty entertaining tennis.
Instead, this Kyrgios showed up on the public courts of an ATP 500-level tournament where his work was witnessed by a sellout crowd of 7,123. That isn’t exactly anonymity, but compared with the attention Kyrgios attracted during his run to the Wimbledon final this summer, his week as king of the courts in D.C. will not make the same ripples in the tennis world.
That is unfortunate. Here in D.C., Kyrgios realizes his vast potential. He lives up to the mantle that so many believe he can handle. Even tennis legends say he’s good for the game, but at 27 he has won just seven ATP titles. His matchup with Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final electrified the tournament, but Kyrgios remains without a Grand Slam singles title.
Alas, two of his singles championships have come right here at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center.
“Ahh, D.C.,” Kyrgios said after lofting the abstract silver structure of a trophy.
After a break, Kyrgios returned to the main court, this time with Sock, and won the doubles title in straight sets.
“I love it here,” he said. “It feels like home.”
This city and this tournament have treated him like a native son. The 2022 promotional poster perplexed Citi Open chairman Mark Ein because, in a loaded draw for both men and women featuring four former top-ranked players, seven Grand Slam champions and multiple competitors in the top 20, who goes where? But there was Kyrgios right of center next to Andy Murray. His image also covered the door to the men’s restroom, and a constant serenade of “C’mon, Nick!” and “Let’s go, Nick!” provided the soundtrack of a hot Sunday evening.
The friendly D.C. crowd experienced all of the wonder and the “Why would he do that?” that makes up a Kyrgios match.
In the second set, his forehand return kissed the line and produced coos from the grandstands. Shots such as that remind everyone of the player who won the junior title at the Australian Open at 17 and, at the time, seemed poised to take over the world.
Later in the set, while up 40-0 in the sixth game, he halfheartedly attempted a between-the-legs shot that died in the net. Kyrgios loves basketball, and in that sport, such an ill-advised decision would be akin to pulling up 40 feet from the hoop while on a five-on-none fast break. Shots such as that drag even his most ardent supporters back into their seats as they realize Kyrgios is his own worst enemy.
Even this Kyrgios can be frustrating to watch. He has all that talent, greatness waiting to be unleashed, and while winning big in a championship match he’ll still waste time complaining to his supporters’ box, the chair umpire and even the defenseless ballfolks. Before a serve, the ballkids must have bounced too many balls his way, so Kyrgios raised his arms, shook his head and questioned in his agitated Australian accent, “What’s going on?”
Noticing the odd scene, fans laughed anyway — it was just Nick being Nick. Later, a few boos rained down when he paused during his service game to address something that irked him with the umpire.
Still, the crowd remained in his corner. The mix of the good and the bad — and occasional flashes of dominance — makes up the full Nick Kyrgios Experience.
After the show was over, Ein complimented Kyrgios by praising him for being “so dialed in.” Later in the evening, Ivan Dodig, half of the doubles team that fell to Kyrgios and Sock, was more blunt.
“You can be that good, man,” Dodig said on the court. “I don’t know what you’re doing.”
When Kyrgios spoke after his singles title, he showed grace to his opponent; he and Nishioka played together with the Washington Kastles of World Team Tennis in 2019, the same year he won his first Citi Open title. As an unsaid apology, he gave a shout-out to the ballkids, ballmen and ballwomen. But he saved most of his love for D.C., one of the few cities where he has harnessed all of his tools.
“It’s emotional for me to be back here again and have another title,” he said.
For those waiting for him to figure it out, they will always have this week in D.C. It’s just too bad this Kyrgios hasn’t consistently shown up elsewhere.