David Ferrer is 35 years old. He’s currently ranked as the 25th best player in the world. If you are just starting out watching tennis, and have only watched Ferrer play for the first time, you’d be pressed to say he’s overachieved. Ferrer is a diminutive player by tennis standards – he stands at 5’9″. He has no standout weapons in his game. He moves well, hits solidly from both wings and has a steady serve. That’s about it. There’s no flashy edge to his playing style, no beauty, no overwhelmingly obvious talent… nothing. Everything about Ferrer would make a first-time tennis watcher conclude that he is very lucky to be where he is… until they learn that he’s been ranked as high as number 3 in the world, is a grand slam finalist, and has 27 career titles to his name.
By contrast, Nick Kyrgios is currently ranked world number 17 and has been blessed by the tennis gods with regards to his natural latent talent and build. Standing in at 6’4″, Kyrgios’s size offers him the gifts of power and reach that Ferrer will never have. He moves fluidly for a big guy and can mix up his power game with spins, angles, a solid net game and natural touch that just can’t be taught. He’s currently higher ranked than Ferrer, but while his career hasn’t run as long, he’s never been ranked higher than 13 in the world. He only has three titles to his name and hasn’t been past the quarterfinals of a grand slam. What’s more, Kyrgios just lost in the second round of the U.S Open to fellow Australian, a journeyman named John Millman. Millman is the Australian version of David Ferrer. He’s a scrapper who moves well around the court, defends well and squeezes out every bit of his blue collar talent in trying to win each point played in a match.
These three players are proof that tennis is as much a game that’s played in the head and heart, as it is played physically on the court. As Nick Kyrgios leaves New York, he has to come to terms with the reality of his career’s direction, before he ends up like fellow Aussie, Bernard Tomic – he lost in the first round of the U.S Open. That reality is simply this: Kyrgios will never achieve what Ferrer has achieved in his career if he doesn’t get his head and heart in sync with his tremendous potential. What Ferrer would give to have Kyrgios’s game, to for one Grand Slam have unfettered access to that level of explosiveness and shotmaking. You combine that with the grit and fierce combative spirit of the Spaniard, and you have yourself a grand slam champion. The thing is, David Ferrer, cannot do anything to change his physical shortcomings. Nick Kyrgios, on the other hand, can make a decision to focus on tennis more. The fact that he doesn’t is what is maddeningly frustrating about the Australian.
I belong to the school of thought that maintains that Nick Kyrgios – at least partially – tanked his match to John Millman. In that match, I began to see the reason for Kyrgios’s fluctuating performances over the course of a season. I could finally grasp why he can go on a red hot tear in one tournament and become a cold dud in the very next one. This has nothing to do with the injury on his shoulder. At the risk of sounding insensitive, greats have played and won grand slams while not feeling 100%. The reason for Kyrgios’s inability to win the big titles is his unwillingness to dig deep when it counts. He waits for his talent to do all the work for him. If it kicks in, great. If it doesn’t, oh well. That is Nick Kyrgios’s attitude to tennis and it is sad. The reason the big four has been so dominant isn’t because they’ve been breezing through matches as though they were up against college or club house amateurs. It is because they have made a habit of winning matches they have no business winning, even when they are not a hundred percent. Roger Federer anyone?
Nick Kyrgios needs to learn to be a survivor. He’s gotta show that heart and desire even when his immense talent isn’t clicking. Pete Sampras once said in a documentary that late coach Tim Gullikson would tell him to “take his white collar off, put his blue collar on and compete.” Watching the Kyrgios – Millman match, I wanted to yell that word out to him. Compete! Put your head and heart in it and the game will come to you. I am very confident Kyrgios could have won that match, hurt shoulder or not. He gave up on it and that is a shame, for the reason the tennis world is so fascinated about Kyrgios is because of how good he could be for the game.
Everyone else knows it. Everyone else’s head and heart are in it, except for one person. Nick Kyrgios. Let’s hope he figures it out before it is too late.