Cool Kyrgios cops painful reality check
In the end, something had to give.
All tournament there's been a strange trend permeating Nick Kyrgios' matches. The wild child with a penchant for taking his anger out on officials, his equipment, his entourage and himself was the coolest customer on the court while rivals blew a gasket.
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In Australia's first thee ties at the ATP Cup, Kyrgios watched on as Alexander Zverev lost the plot against Alex de Minaur and the Canberra product was standing on the other side of the net when Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece) and Cameron Norrie (Great Britain) both lost their tempers.
Being the big brother in a team environment was bringing the best out of Kyrgios' tennis and his maturity levels - but it couldn't last forever.
Kyrgios was powerless to stop an immaculate Roberto Bautista Agut dismantling him 6-1 6-4 in the opening rubber of Saturday night's semi-final as Spain took a 1-0 lead courtesy of the World No. 10's robot-like efficiency. The Europeans then booked their spot in Sunday's final against Serbia when Rafael Nadal accounted for Alex de Minaur in three sets.
Kyrgios wasn't at his best - he simply wasn't allowed to be - but the loss was more a case of Bautista Agut being too clinical rather than the Aussie tripping over himself, even if he admitted afterwards he was well short of his best.
The way the 31-year-old ground Kyrgios down point after point, game after game eventually took its toll on the world No. 29, who spat the dummy for the first time this week. In the second set, Kyrgios thought he'd served an ace but it was pulled up as a let, and he blew up when he hit a forehand long to give Bautista Agut the first break of the set and a 3-2 lead.
Kyrgios pelted his racquet into the ground and complained to captain Lleyton Hewitt at the change of ends.
"That's bulls***, f***ing bulls***," Kyrgios said. "I'm done. I'm done. The ball was a foot over the net."
He also confronted the chair umpire, saying: "No one heard (the ball hit the net) but you. Turn the machine down, it's too sensitive."
Earlier Kyrgios yelled for a ballkid to bring him a towel and he reportedly gave a fan a spray for calling a ball out before the point was over.
In the first set, after being broken for just the second time this tournament, Kyrgios gave himself a serve. The signs were there it wasn't going to be his night and his mood never improved as he slumped to a straight sets loss.
"Probably one of the roughest matches," Kyrgios said. "Honestly, I haven't felt like that in a while, getting beat down like that.
"I didn't have my best serving night at all. I thought he played really, really well.
"He played some crucial points early well and got on top of me pretty early and that freed him up a bit.
"I didn't get as close as he (de Minaur) did but I left it all out there."
In the Channel 9 commentary box questions were asked about whether Kyrgios - an emotional player who so often elevates his game to exceptional levels when facing the best players on the biggest stages - could rally when confronted with an opponent who essentially showed no emotion at all.
If Kyrgios wanted a sign that even the slightest thing wasn't going to plan for Bautista Agut, he wasn't going to get it.
Bautista Agut's facial expression remained neutral for the entirety of the match as he did his best impersonation of a brick wall, just getting the ball back in play time after time, forcing Kyrgios to take risks and push the play.
Kyrgios made 13 unforced errors in the opening set to Bautista Agut's two. Throwing everything at the Spanish no. 2 for little reward must have been tough for the explosive Aussie, who normally blows opponents off the court.
That's not to say there weren't bright spots. Four aces in one game kept Kyrgios' faint hopes alive late in the second set and one moment showed why the temperamental star is pure box office.
At 30-40 with Bautista Agut serving, up 3-2, Kyrgios advanced at the Spaniard's serve and hunched down and held his racquet up vertically in front of his face to somehow get the ball back in play when it got to him quicker than expected. It should have been awkward and ugly but Kyrgios made it look easy.
Unfortunately he couldn't finish the point the way he wanted, ending up on the ground after diving desperately to try and rip a forehand around the net and down the line following a mad scramble just to get there before the second bounce.
Kyrgios lost the point but the crowd still roared its approval - as it did often when it saw the local boy was in need of a lift - but no amount of cheers could break Bautista Agut's concentration as he moved mechanically towards victory.