Gavel / Just when I’m starting to like Kyrgios again…

“Having seen young athletes with ability sabotage their careers through poor behaviour, Kyrgios did his best to give the impression he was on the same path,” writes sport columnist TIM GAVEL

Nick Kyrgios

Nick Kyrgios… something appears to have changed. Cartoon by Paul Dorin

IS it too early to start embracing Nick Kyrgios again?

That was going to be the theme of my column this week: How Kyrgios was starting to become likeable. Then he had a meltdown at the Shanghai Masters. He appeared to give up before engaging in a verbal battle with spectators.

I write this column about someone like Nick Kyrgios at my own peril. A week is a long time in sport!

Given the fact that Kyrgios is Canberra born and bred, in hindsight we were perhaps blinded in those early days.

We celebrated his success when he made the Wimbledon quarter finals in 2014 before turning on him the following year when his behaviour crossed the line at the Rogers Cup in Canada with his sledge on Stan Wawrinka.

I have been on this journey with Kyrgios albeit from a distance. Having interviewed him as a teenager, I rejoiced in his performances at the start of his career before launching into him over his behaviour in subsequent years.

If his aim was to generate a portrait of a brat with a sense of entitlement, he was successful on all counts. Yet, like many, I can’t help but want him to succeed on the court as well as in life more broadly.

Having seen young athletes with ability sabotage their careers through poor behaviour, Kyrgios did his best to give the impression he was on the same path. At one stage following a loss, he said he didn’t love the sport, with basketball his preference. This might be the case but we really don’t need to hear this from someone with so much talent.

But before his meltdown in Shanghai, something appeared to have changed. Perhaps it was the rocket delivered by John McEnroe in the wake of his withdrawal from the US Open in the third round. Questions were raised about his lack of training; if he didn’t want to play tennis, then he needs to find another sport or pursue another avenue.

There was, of course, his very public spat with the Australian Olympic team chef de mission, Kitty Chiller, added to the mix this year; a learning experience for all involved, I would have thought.

At 21 years of age, he had seen off three coaches.

Over the past couple of months though he has shown signs that he has started turning the corner. There hasn’t been a hint of a public put-down of umpires and chair officials; he hasn’t yelled at his support staff telling them to leave because of their lack of support; and he has started talking about tennis in a positive sense. There have been random acts of kindness such as helping a fan suffering a coughing fit during a game.

I am starting to like the guy!

The improvement in his attitude has corresponded in on-court success. Last week he won the Japan Open, his third ATP title of the year, in turn becoming the first Australian since Lleyton Hewitt to do so. His ranking has gone from 30, at the start of the year, to 14 at the moment.

Things are looking up.

There is much to like about Nick Kyrgios at the moment. It needs to be embraced but with a certain amount of caution. In the eyes of some, he will remain the villain no matter what he does, but personally I think it is worth re-evaluating our perception.

That was going to be my last line, but there is now a postscript. The jury remains out! 

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