Kyrgios uses his mental toughness to a T against tennis Goliaths

The 21-year-old Australian has made a habit of coming into his own against higher-ranked players.

CLIVE BRUNSKILL / AFP

He has been dubbed a bad boy of tennis. The 21-year-old has not only got the reputation of having a whiplash tongue but also has been suspended for tanking a match. Yet, Nick Kyrgios can be an inspiration for the manner in which he internalises and finds solutions to apparently complex challenges like adding Novak Djokovic’s scalp to the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

For the second time in three weeks, the mercurial Australian has beaten the redoubtable Djokovic in straight sets. His 6-4, 7-6 (3) victory in nearly two hours on Wednesday ended the Serb’s quest to win the fourth successive title win in the Indian Wells Masters. Kyrgios’ 12th win over a top-10 player set up a big quarterfinal against Federer who beat Nadal in straight sets.

For someone who admits that he finds it easier to motivate himself for matches against the higher-ranked players, the World No. 16 will be pleased that his next opponent will also present him with a big challenge. It will also help him channel his energy in the right direction, pumping him up to deliver his best tennis.

Kyrgios bases his game on his massive serve. Djokovic was candid in confessing that he has problems dealing with the Kyrgios serve. “I just wasn’t managing to get a lot of balls back on his serve, first and second as well. That’s what made a difference,” he said. “He comes out playing his style, very aggressive and just going for every serve. It’s obviously very hard to play like that.”

The World No. 2 did not stop with that. “On his first serves, to try to anticipate and read his serve, where he’s going to go 140 miles per hour, down the T and also pretty good angle wide, it’s hard to position yourself well… It is a gamble. His second serve, if you think you’are going to have a look at it, you don’t because he goes for it as well. He didn’t make too many double faults.”

Yet, more than his serve, it is his ability to get everyone to focus on his skills rather than his habit to lose his cool that stood out during his contest with Djokovic. It stems from a growing realisation that he would be better off optimising his undeniable talent to rise higher in the pecking order.

CLIVE BRUNSKILL / AFP

“Everyone has a tipping point. It is just whether people are able to resist the temptation to falling into being angry, to having negative thoughts. I think my threshold needs to get better. I need to be a bit more resilient. I take the easy way out more on the tennis court. To take that next step, I need to be able to maintain my emotions and work through it,” Kyrgios said, showcasing his intent.

Clearly, conversations with Australian Davis Cup skipper Lleyton Hewitt have helped. They contributed to his realising that he may need to have a coach to be able to take his game to the next notch, even if he has beaten Djokovic twice without coaching support. “I am going to ease into it and find someone that can care for me as a person, not just as a tennis player,” he said.

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