Classy gesture reveals new Kyrgios
Tennis great Jimmy Connors once uttered the famous phrase, "This is what they want" when talking about the antics, drama and tantrums his emerging generation was starting to bring to the game.
You had to smile when the phrase was flipped on its head by Nick Kyrgios during his fighting four-sets loss to Rafael Nadal on Monday night at the Australian Open.
The new Kyrgios - the version that digs deep, has less tantrums and less antics - is exactly what the tennis world wants.
Kyrgios may have been dispatched from the Australian Open in the fourth round after a nail-biting 6-3 3-6 7-6 7-6 match that lasted three hours and 38 minutes, but the standing ovation he received walking of Rod Laver Arena showed this is a new man with a new, strangely warm, relationship with Australian tennis fans.
It was Nadal himself who applauded Kyrgios as the Aussie walked off court - this is the same Nadal that sidestepped the chance to offer Kyrgios any form of flattery when asked if he liked his 24-year-old rival just two days ago.
Nadal, however, could see what we all could. He could see a new Nick Kyrgios.
"What can I say about Nick, when he's playing like today with this positive attitude, he is good for our sport," Nadal said in his on-court interview.
"I think when he is playing like today with this positive factor he gives a lot of positive things to our sport. I encourage him to keep working like that, because he is one of the highest talents, honestly he is one of the highest talents that we have on our Tour.
"And I like the Nick Kyrgios doing this."
The entire world seems to like Nick Kyrgios doing this. This is what they want, Nick.
Aussie tennis great Todd Woodbridge saw something in Kyrgios' run through to the last 16 that he hadn't before as well.
"This is the best Grand Slam tournament I have seen him play," Woodbridge said.
"You've got to tip your hat to him. His competitive spirit was the best we have seen from him.
"We saw moments of frustration, but that was just because he wanted it and he wanted it more than we have ever seen."
His point is an important one.
This was not a flawless Kyrgios. He remains a deeply flawed person, just like this writer is, just like you, the reader, are.
Kyrgios will never be perfect, nobody is, but the version we saw at Melbourne Park this week is perfectly likeable.
It certainly wasn't the spiteful affair that it was hyped to be, but the fireworks were just as spectacular as Kyrgios and Nadal delivered an absolute thriller.
The two men have had a running feud since the outspoken Australian called Nadal "super salty" and his "polar opposite" last year after the Spaniard complained he "lacks respect".
But their eighth career meeting - and just their second match since their famous war of words erupted at the Acapulco Open last year - was a gentleman's contest.
Fiercely competitive, fiercely sporting.
It was everything the Australian public has ever wanted to see from the same teenager that famously made it to the quarter finals at Wimbledon.
A hurting Kyrgios appeared overcome by emotion in the first set after his touching tribute to NBA legend Kobe Bryant as he walked out onto court.
Kyrgios entered the arena sporting Bryant's No. 8 Los Angeles Lakers singlet before he had to hide his face from the crowd, heavy with emotion.
Kyrgios got himself going in the second set to level the match at one set all, but his mental demons were unleashed in the third.
As the crucial third set reached its crescendo, Kyrgios' nerves and anger appeared to get the better of him as he began arguing with the chair umpire, broke a racquet and once more began berating himself and his friends and family sitting in his player's box.
After a poor call from a linesman was overruled on a Kyrgios challenge as Nadal served to go ahead 6-5, Kyrgios had a lengthy exchange with the chair umpire, asking for the linesman to be taken off the court after what he claimed were several unforgivable mistakes.
"Get them off. It's embarrassing," Kyrgios said while gesturing towards a linesman.
"He turns around and he starts laughing. That's what I am talking about.
"It's not a game. It's not a joke"
"We're giving 130 per cent and he can get line calls right."
As the set continued to a tiebreak, Kyrgios went on to pulverise his racquet after an unforced error put him behind 1-3 in the breaker.
He received a code violation warning for racquet abuse after having to replace his racquet. Kyrgios attempted to toss his racquet to a fan sitting in the front row, but the fan managed to let it slip from his fingers.
Nadal eventually held his nerve in the breaker, despite a crucial double fault on his first set point at 6-5, and appeared to break Kyrgios' spirit when he clinched the breaker 8-6.
Kyrgios was heard muttering angrily to himself and had a heated moment while talking towards his player's box.
"I don't want to hear you, you f**king idiot. I don't want to hear you," he was heard saying to himself.
Nadal double faults on his own set point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker. Seemed like a bad omen.— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) January 27, 2020
It wasn't. Takes next two points and the third set 7-6 (8-6)
Kyrgios in his chair pointing at his head saying, "I don't want to hear you. I don't want to hear you"#tennis
He yelled at his player's box: "Why's he in the box?"
"Why's he in the box. I don't want him there."
Kyrgios continued to fade away in the fourth set as his marathon five-setter against Karen Khachanov two days earlier began to show.
The four hour and 26 minute match was the longest Kyrgios had ever played, while Nadal had never dropped a set before Monday night.
However, just as the match appeared over for the Aussie, he set-up two break point opportunities while Nadal served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set.
The roof on Rod Laver Arena appeared to be about to blow off when he tied the fourth set at 5-5.
He also had to defend two break points before sending the set to another nail-biting breaker.
In the end Kyrgios' fell short - and it hurt.
After sending a backhand into the net that levelled the fourth set tiebreak 3-3, Kyrgios bent over, dropped his knees to an inch above the court and buried his head into his stomach.
While clutching at his own face with both his hand and racquet, Kyrgios let out a long, haunting, anguished cry of "noooooo".
It was something the old Kyrgios would have done, but this new version picked himself back up and pushed it right to the end.
He shared a warm embrace with Nadal at the net - something that seemed impossible 24 hours earlier.
Kyrgios declared after his win over Khachanov that he and Nadal shared a "layer of respect" sitting underneath their simmering feud.
It showed in their sporting contest on Monday night.
It flew in the face of their earlier declarations this week.
"I don't really dislike him. I don't know him at all. Hell of a tennis player. Don't know him as a person. I'm sure he's okay," Kyrgios said.
Nadal earlier gave a cool response when asked whether he liked Kyrgios.
"When he does stuff that in my opinion is not good, I don't like," said the 19-time grand slam winner and top seed.
"When he plays good tennis and he shows passion for this game, he is a positive player for our tour."
Kyrgios also mocked Nadal's service action early in the tournament.
"At the end of the day, we're two different tennis players," said Kyrgios.
"We go about it completely different. After Wimbledon, I lost, I got beaten by the better player. I shook his hand, looked him in the eye and said, 'Too good'."
He did it again on Monday too - and it's exactly what the tennis world wanted.
No matter the result. This is growth. 👏— Nathan Buckley (@ncb_cfc) January 27, 2020
It is reassuring to see Nick Kyrgios really, really want something— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) January 27, 2020
I’m so proud of Nick Kyrgios. What a damn summer. Rafa too good tonight. Let’s go again next Slam. #AusOpen— Chris De Silva (@cdesilva23) January 27, 2020
Nick Kyrgios deserved the standing ovation he received from fans. He gave that everything. In the past he’s given up but not today, fought to the end. Just too many flaws in his game. If he gets a coach & commits himself to learning, he can improve so much #AusOpen https://t.co/fWJHtsqqyj— Uche Amako (@UcheAmako) January 27, 2020
Phenomenal from Kyrgios. I haven’t watched tennis like this in ages.(Disclaimer: this is the first tennis match I’ve ever watched.) #AusOpen— David Sharaz (@DavidSharaz) January 27, 2020
Nick ‘I love tennis’ Kyrgios is a bloke that a lot more people can get behind.— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) January 27, 2020
Add that to his natural cool and talent, and you’ve got an irresistible combination in my book.
I am. The quality of play from both players has been off the scale. I have a super early start but can’t not watch it!!! @AustralianOpen— Johanna Griggs AM (@JohGriggs7) January 27, 2020
This is spine tingling stuff from Kyrgios! C’mon, let’s keep rolling! #AusOpen— TomRehn9 (@tomrehn9) January 27, 2020