The brilliance and belligerence of Nick Kyrgios
SWEAT DRIPS OFF Nick Kyrgios’ face as he stands near the edge of the tennis court. It’s a blistering August day in Mason, Ohio, and the 27-year-old, fresh off his maiden trip to a Grand Slam final, wipes down his body with a white towel.
His eyes narrow as he looks in my direction.
“Every single time. Every time. Every match,” he screams. “You sit there and 30-0 up and everybody relaxes. Every single time. Why does it happen? Why don’t you stand up and say something?”
It’s the 2022 Western & Southern Open — a month after Kyrgios’ run to the Wimbledon final, a month after a former girlfriend’s allegation of domestic assault against him came to light, and two weeks after he won the Citi Open singles and doubles titles in Washington. Kyrgios is playing Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the first round. After winning the first set and jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the second, he loses his serve.
“Why do you relax?” he yells. “Why?”
The stands in the Center Court stadium are about three-quarters full, and I had found an empty seat right next to Kyrgios’ entourage, which includes girlfriend Costeen Hatzi, manager Daniel Horsfall and physio Will Maher. I have come here trying to understand Kyrgios’ enigmatic personality and to experience the mayhem that makes him the most polarizing player in tennis.
A fan sitting next to me asks, “He’s winning. Why is he so angry?”
I turn to my right to peek at Hatzi, who looks composed, but her eyebrows are pinched together. Horsfall claps and nods vigorously at Kyrgios. Maher cheers, “Come on, mate. You got this, mate.”
Kyrgios turns his back on his team, pulls a ball from his pocket, whacks it with his racket into the crowd. The ball ricochets off one of the chairs, between a few spectators.
“It’s really tough stuff, mate,” Maher tells him. “It’s not easy. You’re doing well.”
Had the ball hit a spectator, Kyrgios would have been defaulted from the match. Now, the umpire calls a code violation. The crowd boos.
I check Twitter. “Kyrgios is a disgrace,” one tweet reads. “He should be defaulted for that,” reads another.
Kyrgios makes his way to the baseline to receive Davidovich Fokina’s serve. A look of calm washes over his face.
He breaks at love to go up 3-2. After a tense point at the net, where Kyrgios shows off his power and agility, Davidovich Fokina falls to the court. Kyrgios reaches over the net and helps him get up. The crowd cheers.
And so it has been for the better part of a decade.
For 10 years, Kyrgios has mesmerized fans with his tremendous talent — his precision aces, his effortless tweeners, his no-look volleys, his cheeky underhand serves. For 10 years, Kyrgios has dismayed fans with his perplexing personality — his outbursts at umpires, his broken rackets, his tanking of matches, his screaming at his box. For 10 years, nobody — not even his mom — could predict which Nick Kyrgios would walk onto the court and which one would walk off.
But after a breakthrough season in 2022, it may be that the brilliance and belligerence of Kyrgios have found a way to live in harmony. It may be that Kyrgios’ vastly different personalities have at last aligned on a single goal. It may be that Kyrgios is finally ready to win his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, some 400 miles from where this turbulent journey began.
NICK KYRGIOS WAS 14 years old when his dream was snatched away from him.
He shares the story over and over again with anyone who will listen — a singular story that shaped the trajectory of his life.
It begins like this: Kyrgios is in his backyard in Canberra, Australia, a basketball in his hand. The yard came with a hoop, and when Kyrgios wasn’t traveling for tennis tournaments or catching up at school, he spent hours on that makeshift court.
Basketball was his first love, but it was starting to become too much. His mom, Nill, would sit with a timetable in front of her every week, trying to figure out how to get him to school, to tennis training, and then to basketball games. Basketball practice? Forget it. There was not enough time in the day.
“The coach would put him on and then the [other] parents would say, ‘Why is Nick on? He didn’t even attend training.'” Nill says. “So that started to get a little bit bitchy.”
With Australia’s long tradition of tennis stars, Kyrgios’ parents could see a path in that sport. They had some sense of what it took to be a pro, what the ATP Tour looked like, and believed their son had the skills to get there. With basketball, that path looked less clear sitting thousands of miles away from the NBA in Canberra.
So, that fateful day in 2009, Giorgos Kyrgios walked up to Nick and said, “We’re not going to go the basketball route. We’re going to put everything into tennis.”
“He pretty much snatched the dream away from me,” Kyrgios said in a recent podcast with Australian entrepreneur Julian Petroulas.
“He brings it up every week,” says Horsfall, his childhood best friend and current manager.
Several years later, that memory would come to haunt him during the lowest points of his professional tennis career.
But back then, as a 14-year-old, he initially didn’t think much about it. He was a “fair bit better at tennis,” as he said to The Sydney Morning Herald, and decided to see where tennis could take him.
Despite the disappointing decision his father made, Kyrgios thought he had a great life at home. He was born to a Greek father (“Dad’s probably one of the hardest workers you’ve ever met — he still paints to this day and he is 65. Typical Greek, won’t stop working,” he says to Petroulas) and a Malaysian mother. He grew up with two older siblings, a sister and a brother, and he shadowed them around the house. They were a tight-knit family.
Throughout Nick’s childhood, his mom struggled with multiple undisclosed health issues, and Nick was terrified for her. Some nights, she would find him by her side even after he had hugged her goodnight and dragged himself to his room.
“He [thought] something was going to happen and he won’t be there,” Nill says.
Nill believes he was “traumatized” by her illness and grew up hating to be alone. He needed somebody — even if they were doing their own thing — in the room at all times.
Things were no more settled outside of his home. Kyrgios had darker skin than the other kids around him in Canberra, and when he was a preteen, he was “pretty overweight.” He got bullied and struggled to make friends.
Nick was an emotional kid, Nill says. The first time she saw him really cry over a lost tennis match was when he was 8. “He threw his lunch box, he threw his racket and he went up to the back shed and cried,” Nill says. “I’m like, ‘Oh my god, Nick.'”
Nill sat with him and explained that it was one match — and there were so many matches to come. She could see that he calmed down quickly. All he needed was somebody he trusted to talk him through his emotions.
One day shortly after the pivotal conversation with his dad, Kyrgios decided to play basketball during his lunch break at Daramalan College, a Catholic high school in Canberra. He was playing against Horsfall’s team. Kyrgios was already big — 6-foot-1 — and loved dunking. Horsfall couldn’t stand him.
“We didn’t get along at all, to be honest,” Horsfall says.
A few months later, Kyrgios and Horsfall played on the same team during lunch break.
“And something clicked,” Horsfall says.
Horsfall loved Kyrgios as a teammate. He was supportive and competitive. He also was a “freak” basketball player.
They’ve been friends ever since.
Horsfall, who didn’t know much about tennis, provided Kyrgios the consistent friendship he craved all his life. Kyrgios would go away for tournaments and come back — and Horsfall would appear by his side.
Kyrgios began seeing success at the junior level. He met his current doubles partner and fellow Australian, Thanasi Kokkinakis, on the junior circuit. They bonded over their shared Greek ancestry and their love for basketball. Kyrgios won his first ITF junior singles title in Fiji in 2010 at age 15.
“We just kept being the top of our age groups in Australia, so we kept playing against each other and we’d end up going on overseas trips together,” Kokkinakis says. “We’ve roomed together plenty of times.”
Kyrgios won two junior Grand Slam doubles titles in 2012 (with fellow Australian Andrew Harris) and became the junior world No. 1 in 2013 after winning his first junior singles title, beating Kokkinakis at the Australian Open.
Around that time, Australia’s Davis Cup coach, Josh Eagle, hit with Kyrgios during a practice session.
“I’d never seen anything like it,” Eagle says. “He’s possibly the greatest talent that I have seen since Roger Federer.”
It was like magic. He swung the racket so hard. The ball jumped so much higher off the court. It was so powerful — with so many more full revolutions. Even back then, he couldn’t read Kyrgios’ serve. Every ball toss looked identical. He could hit anywhere in the service box and it was impossible to know where. He could change the pace, the spin, the placement.
Beyond that, he had an innate ability to deduce how a point was going to play out five shots into the future, much like a grandmaster would in chess.
Eagle knew Kyrgios was a generational talent. Soon the rest of the world would be introduced to his brilliance.
NICK KYRGIOS IS SMILING, a wide childlike grin. He lifts his hands in the air, pumps his fists at his sister, Halimah, whose eyes are filled with tears; and at his father, Giorgos, who is beaming and clapping for joy. The Wimbledon crowd is on its feet.
A 19-year-old wild card from Canberra, Australia, had just stunned world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2014. After shaking hands with Nadal and the umpire, Kyrgios does a little dance on the court. Moments earlier, Kyrgios returned a Nadal forehand with a half-volley between-the-legs winner that made the crowd gasp and prompted a commentator to declare it the shot of the year.
Years later, his mom would recall it was the last time she would see that kind of carefree happiness from Nick.
Kyrgios’ quick ascension to the top of the tennis world was shocking to most, but Eagle knew it was coming. He had, after all, seen Kyrgios beat Federer — pretty consistently — in practice just a few months before Kyrgios beat Nadal on the hallowed grass of Centre Court.
Eagle loves to tell this story.
Eagle took Kyrgios to spend a week in Zurich with Federer. His goal: to get Kyrgios to see how a champion trains ahead of an important stretch (it was before the French Open and Wimbledon). Kyrgios spent hours on the court with Federer. Eagle noticed something unique about the young talent. Kyrgios had this ability to keenly observe a move, a skill or a piece of advice and replicate it immediately. Former Swedish Grand Slam champion Stefan Edberg, who coached Federer at the time, would lead Federer through a drill — and Kyrgios would pick it up instantaneously.
“Nick was going toe-to-toe and could match it with Roger,” Eagle says. “In fact, they would play many sets during that week and Nick was beating Roger a bit in practice.”
The secret was out after the win over Nadal.
“His life was crazy at the time,” Eagle says. “Everyone wanted a piece of him — Nike, Yonex, all these companies were throwing big money at him — and his life was just changing so rapidly on a daily basis.”
But even then, Eagle could tell that Kyrgios would be difficult to coach. Eagle considered himself strict — he focused on developing individual skills, particularly early on in a player’s career. But Kyrgios was a wild soul. He loved playing points. He saw something once and knew not just how to imitate it, but how to do it better.
So, a few months later, Eagle and Kyrgios went their separate ways. Even still, Kyrgios ended the year on a high note, reaching the third round of the US Open and a world ranking of 52.
Horsfall knew everything had changed for Kyrgios when he picked him up from the Canberra airport at the end of the 2014 season and saw about 100 people waiting for him to arrive. Some held posters with “Welcome home, Nick” written on them. On their way home, Kyrgios pointed at reporters who followed Horsfall’s car all the way to the Kyrgios’ house.
“[Reporters] camped out outside Nick’s house for three days,” Horsfall says. “It was crazy.”
Kyrgios loved going to their high school gym and playing basketball. But now he had people following him around Canberra. It seemed like he lost his freedom overnight. He was still 19. According to family and friends, he didn’t know how to deal with the intense scrutiny — and loneliness — that came with fame. A tumultuous road was ahead.
FOURTEEN MINUTES INTO his second-round match at the 2016 Shanghai Masters against Mischa Zverev, serving at 1-3, Nick Kyrgios tosses the ball in front of his face and nudges it over. A lollipop serve. Without even glancing at Zverev, or the ball, he begins walking toward his chair. The point isn’t over. But Kyrgios is done.
The crowd boos.
“Nick, you can’t play like that, OK?” chair umpire Ali Nili says. “This is not professional.”
The match lasts all of 48 minutes, a 6-3, 6-1 Kyrgios loss. The ATP issued a $16,500 fine (for lack of effort, for verbal abuse, for unsportsmanlike conduct) and suspended him from the tour for eight weeks. The most shocking part of it all? He was playing the best tennis of his career. Just a week earlier, he had won the Japan Open, his third title of the season.
“My jaw dropped. I don’t know what was going on with him at that time,” Nill says now. “I don’t know whether it was the pressure. I don’t know whether it was listening to the wrong people. I’m not quite sure.”
Horsfall had noticed things taking a turn for the worse in 2015 when Kyrgios reached out to him begging him to travel with him. “I will pay for it. I just need someone [with me],” Horsfall recollects Kyrgios’ texts.
Horsfall considered Kyrgios a brother. When Kyrgios returned from tour, Horsfall basically slept in Kyrgios’ house for weeks, hanging out with his best friend every minute he could. So when his friend asked for his help, he felt he had no choice but to figure it out. He had noticed Kyrgios’ mental health deteriorating. The texts. The outbursts on the court. He could see his friend was struggling. The sudden attention. The celebrity.
“By 2015, it started to take — I wouldn’t say a negative turn — but it was more having an impact on his emotional stability, his mental stability,” Horsfall says.
Horsfall asked his bosses for time off from work and traveled with Kyrgios for months. Kyrgios would pay for his flights. Horsfall would stay in the same room as Kyrgios, and they pretty much lived together for months on end, traveling to countries like India and Singapore. He wasn’t getting paid, but he felt like he was helping his friend in need.
At Wimbledon in 2015, Kyrgios received a code violation when the linesman heard him say “dirty scum” in his first-round victory over Diego Schwartzman. After the match, Kyrgios explained that the comment was aimed at himself and not the umpire. In the third round, he smashed his racket so hard it ricocheted into the stands. Then he began arguing with a fan. In the fourth round against Richard Gasquet, he began to show disinterest, not returning serves that seemed returnable. He was accused of tanking, which he dismissed in the news conference after his loss.
A month later he was involved in one of the most outrageous moments in tennis. During a match against Stan Wawrinka in Montreal at the Rogers Cup, Kyrgios taunted his opponent by linking his girlfriend to Kokkinakis. “Sorry to tell you that, mate,” he said. The ATP issued Kyrgios a suspended $25,000 fine and a 28-day suspension for “aggravated behavior” and said the incident “reflected poorly on our sport.”
Nick’s mom remembers a heartbreaking moment in 2017 in Washington at the Citi Open. In his first-round match against Tennys Sandgren, a frustrated Kyrgios turned to his mom and said, “I just want to go home.” She mouthed back, “Can you just try?”
“The camera was on my face, and it [was] one of those games where he just gave it away,” Nill says. For the third straight tournament, Kyrgios retired from his opening match.
Soon after, Nill stopped sitting in Nick’s box for singles matches. She couldn’t bear his outbursts. Cheering for him often felt like a guessing game; she never knew what he wanted from her.
“It’s not that I don’t want to support him, I support him, but that’s real abuse,” Nill says. “It hurts a lot. I mean, because the trouble is I’ve had it done to me so many times. It’s still not a nice thing to hear. I’ve been on that end for so many games that you just put on a face. I don’t know what sort of face I put in there. I just look at him and I go, ‘I’m supporting you. Let’s go, Nick. Come on.’ And then he’ll say, ‘Say something else.’ What else do you say?”
Things steadily declined in 2018, Kyrgios’ worst year on tour, Horsfall says. At Wimbledon, he lost to Kei Nishikori in straight sets in the third round. “Man, I can’t do it anymore. I just want to go home. Tennis is the problem. I know tennis is the problem,” Horsfall remembers Kyrgios telling him over the phone.
In the second round of the US Open, Kyrgios trailed France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert 3-0 in the second set after losing the first. He looked checked out. During a changeover, umpire Mohamed Lahyani stepped down from his chair and bent toward Kyrgios. “I want to help you,” Lahyani was heard saying on camera. “You’re great for tennis. I can see there is something wrong. This is not you. Can I call for a trainer? What’s going on?” Kyrgios went on to win the match in four sets. On-court coaching is illegal in tennis, and Lahyani was suspended by the ATP.
Throughout it all, one memory kept coming back to Kyrgios: What if his father hadn’t chosen tennis for him all those years ago? What if he had pursued basketball? Would his life have turned out differently?
Kyrgios wouldn’t sleep. He barely ate. He would finish a match, he would hit the night clubs, he would drink, he would spend the entire night out, and he would come back and try to play a match the next day, Horsfall says.
“I’d always look him in the eyes and I’d say, ‘Look, I’ve been here with you. I know for a fact tennis is not the issue, but let’s figure out what you need to change.'” Horsfall says.
“There were events where I was the main guy, but I felt literally as alone as I’d ever felt in my life, and I would wish to get back to my hotel room where I would close all the windows and be in a dark room,” Kyrgios told Petroulas in the podcast.
Kyrgios has often talked about how unfair it is that Australian tennis players don’t get the opportunity to go home and reset between tournaments. Kokkinakis echoes Kyrgios’ sentiments and says it’s hard to “stay sane” on the tour after it leaves Australia every January and heads mostly to Europe and North America.
“If you’re not playing that well and [you’re] not in the right headspace, every loss feels like the world’s ending, to be honest,” Kokkinakis says.
Kyrgios remained unpredictable in 2019, losing in the first round of the Australian Open, and then following that up with a dramatic win against Nadal at the Mexican Open. He served his infamous underhand serves, much to the displeasure of Nadal, and saved three match points as fans booed. Celebrating his win, he placed his hand against his ear, goading the fans to react to his victory. Nadal, who rarely says anything negative about his opponents, made his frustrations known both at the net after the match (where he barely shook hands with Kyrgios) and then at the news conference where he said, “He lacks respect for the public, the rival and toward himself.”
During the second round of the Italian Open against Casper Ruud, Kyrgios received three code violations and was docked a game. He proceeded to kick a bottle, smash his racket and throw a chair on the court, resulting in his disqualification.
He had alienated fans, fellow players, family and friends. He had achieved worldwide fame, but Kyrgios felt completely alone.
“I was having suicidal thoughts and was literally struggling to get out of bed, let alone play in front of millions,” he wrote in an Instagram post last year. “I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family & friends. I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone.”
Elaborating on his post, he said in the podcast with Petroulas that he knew he was generous. His loved ones knew he was kind. But the world had already made up its mind about who he was — a villain, a pariah, a disrespectful brat — and that didn’t add up in his brain. He kept wondering what the point of it all was. The tennis, the fame, the celebrity. Success was supposed to make him feel good. Money was supposed to make him feel good. Success and money came — and he did not feel good. At all.
“Everyone who met me at first sight already had this picture in their head of how I was going to be, so I was like what’s the point of me even being here?” he said. “Even if I win matches, they’re going to write something about me. My only purpose was tennis, and I was over it.”
More outbursts followed. He was fined a total of $113,000 for various violations — including smashing his rackets in a tunnel after asking for a bathroom break — at the Cincinnati Open in 2019. At the US Open, he called the ATP “corrupt.” An ATP investigation found a “pattern” of verbal abuse and ordered him to seek “continued support” from a mental health coach while on tour and to work with a behavioral management specialist during the offseason. Kyrgios acknowledged weeks later that he began seeing a psychologist.
Kyrgios’ on-court behavior affected his mom “badly.” She sought the help of a psychologist to work through her emotions. “I [was] always anticipating bad behavior, so I had to literally talk to a psychologist to say, ‘How do you stop yourself from expecting bad things to happen?'” Nill says.
For Nill and Nick, social media only compounded the problem. Nill recalls anonymous users taking jabs at the Kyrgios family, saying she raised “a monster.” Horsfall recalls floods of racist messages on Nick’s Instagram, which he manages.
What Kyrgios needed more than anything was time away from tennis, away from the pressure, away from the expectations. He needed a do-over with his family, his fans, his opponents, the officials. He needed to recover what the sport had taken from him, and what he had taken from himself.
HOURS AFTER HIS 2022 Wimbledon final loss to Djokovic, Nick Kyrgios sits in a London watering hole with his agent Stuart Duguid, a beer in front of him.
“I’m actually glad I didn’t win that one,” Duguid remembers Kyrgios saying to him, with a fiercely determined look in his eyes.
“Now I’m still hungry.”
Nine years after turning pro, after innumerable setbacks, Kyrgios had made it to a Grand Slam singles final for the first time. It wasn’t as though he had tamped down his fire or changed his personality. He was fined for spitting in the direction of a spectator in the first round. He was accused of being a “bully” by Stefanos Tsitsipas after a third-round match full of outbursts from both players. He repeatedly yelled at his box; he cursed in front of an 8-year-old Prince George; he complained about a fan who he said “looks like she’s had about 700 drinks.” He showed up to the awards ceremony in a bright red hat (“No matter what happens today, I’m wearing that red hat,” Horsfall remembers Kyrgios telling him) even though he knew Wimbledon requires players to wear white at all times on the court.
The breathtaking shots, creative tactics, the powerful serves — those were the same as ever.
The change, far more subtle, was both within him and around him.
In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had shut down the world. Australia closed its borders, and for the first time in years, Kyrgios found himself living with his mom and dad in Canberra with no tournament to play in, no expectations to meet.
He decided he wanted to be helpful. He ordered groceries in bulk for his neighbors and drove around town dropping them off. He organized video chats with children in hospitals around the city and spent hours playing Pictionary with them, Horsfall recalls.
It was also in early 2020 that he decided to part with IMG and build his team from scratch. There have been times when he hated tennis, and there have been times when he loved it. But one thing became apparent: Tennis was all he knew how to do, and if he was going to give it another shot, he needed to start over. Horsfall had been traveling with him for years now, so one day he asked, “Do you just want to be my manager, mate?” And, Horsfall, who came from a real estate and sales background, decided he could swing it.
Then the two met with Duguid, who was also parting with IMG and joining Naomi Osaka’s new athlete management company, Evolve. Duguid remembered Kyrgios saying to him, “I just want to be myself.” And Duguid — who went into the call wanting the same for Nick — said, “Yes, let’s do it.”
“He’s too much of a free spirit, and the last thing he wants to be is anything that’s disingenuine,” Duguid says.
In addition to surrounding himself with a new team, 2020 also gave him a chance to “clean up” his life, as he explained in a Nine Australia interview in May 2022. He worked on himself first — cutting back on alcohol, eating better (he is vegan now) and focusing on training, and then decided to put in the time to reconnect with his family.
Most of 2020 was washed away due to the pandemic, and he played fewer tournaments in 2021 — withdrawing from a couple due to abdominal and knee injuries. He played just 24 official matches over two years. He also started dating social media influencer Costeen Hatzi.
Hatzi was selling a mirror on her Instagram account at the end of 2021, and Kyrgios stumbled upon her profile while looking for a mirror for his house. Hatzi called it love at first sight when the famous stranger knocked on her door. They began dating soon after, and she started traveling with him when the 2022 season began. Hatzi, then 21, didn’t know anything about tennis when she met Kyrgios, Horsfall recalls, and Kyrgios found her questions about tennis — “How does the point system work?” — “refreshing.” She provided a calm and reassuring presence Kyrgios craved on tour.
“I’ve seen him in previous relationships, and they perhaps were taking him in the other direction,” Duguid says. “[Hatzi] lifts him up and gives him motivation and inspiration, and she’s just a great partner to him.”
Fellow players noticed a difference. His serve and forehand had always been among the best on tour, but now his net play had gotten significantly better, and he moved well, thanks to his focus on nutrition. He played basketball every day as part of his training regimen, which helped with both his fitness — and his ability to drill tweeners with perfection.
“I definitely joke with him and say every time he hits something cool that the crowd loves, ‘I taught you that,'” says American Jack Sock, who is also known for his variety of shots. “He’s a lot less scared than me to hit them in the matches.”
Kyrgios has always been known for his physical talent, even sparking jealousy among fellow players that he could be so good with so little effort. But what’s not as apparent, at least to fans, is Kyrgios’ mental aptitude. He has coached himself — an oddity unto itself — for a long time, but other players still come to him for tips before big matches. They tell him who they’re playing and Kyrgios rattles off the tactics they should follow to win.
Horsfall remembers Taylor Fritz coming to Kyrgios for advice. When Fritz won the match, Horsfall remembers a conversation between Kyrgios and Fritz in which Kyrgios said, “I told you so.”
Duguid remembers a similar conversation with Kyrgios.
“He’s like, ‘If I coached Naomi on grass, if I had three weeks to coach her before Wimbledon, she’d win Wimbledon.’ And I absolutely believe him,” Duguid says.
Kyrgios also opened up off the court. Before, he would go to tournaments and stay in his room, playing video games, the drapes over his windows shut. Now he plays in countries he wants to explore. Horsfall remembers Kyrgios taking them to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere in Italy during the ATP Finals in Turin in November and using Google translate to help understand the waiters.
“He’s a teddy bear and a genuine guy off the court,” Sock says.
His team agrees. He may lose his temper, he may curse at them, he may belittle them, but they all know it’s only one side of him.
I ask people in his inner circle what Kyrgios is feeling when he’s yelling at his team.
“Anxiety,” both Duguid and Horsfall say.
It’s not personal, Horsfall insists.
“I wouldn’t keep coming back otherwise,” he says.
Kyrgios’ anxiety eats at him when he’s alone on the court — and the yelling is his way of keeping it in check, both Duguid and Horsfall believe.
How do they bounce back from his intense yelling during a match?
“He’ll always come up to me or text me and be like, ‘Sorry, mate, you know it’s me,’ and [I say], ‘Of course, mate, no worries,'” Duguid says.
Says Nill: “He’s leaning on people that are close to him to try and find an outlet.”
Kyrgios would tell me at the US Open that he acts “stupid in certain moments,” and that it “comes to me and I do it.” But he’s been working on not putting himself and his team through a “rollercoaster” every time he steps on the court.
He started 2022 with an Australian Open doubles title with Kokkinakis. Then he made the final at Wimbledon. He won the Citi Open singles and doubles titles, becoming the first person in tournament history to do so. By the time the US Open rolled around, experts were pegging him to not just make a deep run, but to win the tournament. Teenage prodigy Carlos Alcaraz, who went on to win the US Open, told ESPN at the start of the tournament he thought Kyrgios was a favorite to win his maiden major in New York. Kyrgios was ranked No. 115 at the beginning of the 2022 Australian Open. He ended the year ranked No. 22. He won a career-high $2.9 million in prize money.
At Wimbledon’s postmatch award ceremony, Djokovic gave voice to what the tennis world was sensing. “Everything is starting to come together for you,” he told Kyrgios. “And I’m sure we’re going to see much of you in the later stages of the Grand Slams.”
The 21-time Grand Slam champion noticed Kyrgios’ game clicking, but Nill noticed something else.
“It’s the happiest I’ve seen him since he beat Rafa in 2014, that’s for sure, because that changed his life and now he’s just turned it around again,” Nill says. “Maybe I will sit in his box again.”
“I AM GETTING on the plane and out of here.”
In the last few games of his US Open quarterfinal loss to Russian Karen Khachanov, Nick Kyrgios kept going back to that thought, he said in the podcast with Petroulas. Kyrgios had been on the court for more than three hours and 30 minutes, and he was exhausted. He hadn’t been home in four months. Life was happening in Australia, and he was missing it all.
“There’s new babies being born in the family, my mum’s sick, my dad’s not well, and I have to continue to travel, because we don’t have any choice,” Kyrgios said to ESPN earlier in the tournament. So as “devastated” as he said he was at the news conference after the five-set loss, Kyrgios was ready to leave.
It had been a long season, and he was ready to take a break.
Within 24 hours, he was on a flight back to Australia. He posted photos hugging his newborn nephew, visiting with his girlfriend’s family and buying a house in Sydney for himself and Hatzi. He posted photos of himself as the Joker and Hatzi as Harley Quinn during the Kyrgios family’s annual themed Christmas party. He invested in a Miami pickleball team with Osaka.
Amid all of this, Kyrgios is facing a charge of common assault following an incident that allegedly took place in 2021. The charges were filed by a former girlfriend in December 2021 and came to light at Wimbledon in 2022. Attempts to reach the woman were unsuccessful. Last October, Kyrgios’ lawyer, Michael Kukulies-Smith, appeared at Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court in Canberra and requested an adjournment to prepare a forensic mental health report on Kyrgios. The case is scheduled for Feb. 3, 2023 (after the Australian Open). A person found guilty of such an offense could face a jail sentence of up to two years. Kyrgios is reportedly seeking to get the case dismissed on mental health grounds. Attempts to reach Kukulies-Smith were unsuccessful. Kyrgios’ team has repeatedly declined to comment on the matter, and details of the incident have not been released.
“A common assault is any assault that doesn’t cause injuries,” says Avinash Singh, a Sydney-based criminal attorney and the principal lawyer at Astor Legal. “As soon as there’s any sort of injuries, even if it’s just a minor mark or a scratch, that becomes a more serious offense of assault, and there’s increased penalties for that as well.”
A mental health defense essentially is a “diversion scheme” out of the court system, Singh says.
“So rather than the court deal with it, what he’s applying for is to say, ‘Because of my mental condition, this matter shouldn’t be dealt with in the criminal justice system,'” Singh says.
With the court date looming over his offseason, Kyrgios spent time doing Q&As on Instagram stories, sharing philosophical thoughts.
“What is the end goal?” a fan asked.
Kyrgios responded with a photo of himself and Hatzi. “I want a beautiful relationship with this one. A big family. A successful tennis career that is able to look after my family, and give my kids opportunity and freedom. Lastly, to inspire millions of kids to believe.”
If you could have one superpower, what would it be? “Invisibility, so I can be left alone lol” he said.
Are you still battling with depression? one asked. “Every day,” he responded. Kyrgios told Petroulas that he’s seen four to five psychologists over time, but finds it hard to open up and trust somebody who is paid to listen to him.
“Stop acting like a b—- on the court and man up,” one person said, to which he responded with a photo of himself lifting the 2022 Citi Open trophy with a comment, “You mean like this?”
“Are U and Tsitsipas still fighting?” another person asked. “We never were fighting. He was upset he lost,” Kyrgios responded. Later, Tsitsipas and Kyrgios played doubles together at the Diriyah Tennis Cup. (“Who would have thought,” Tsitsipas posted on Twitter before the match).
In another Q&A, a fan asked Kyrgios, “Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?”
“It’s never as good as it seems, never as bad as it seems,” Kyrgios captioned a photo of himself with the Wimbledon runner-up trophy, his bright red hat visible among a sea of white.
Come Jan. 16, Kyrgios will begin the new tennis season at the Australian Open, his home slam, defending his doubles title with Kokkinakis (Kokkinakis says Kyrgios texted him asking “Do you want to play again?” and Kokkinakis said, “All right, yes!” and that was all the prep that went into that). Kyrgios, who is slated to play Russian Roman Safiullin in the first round, could become the first Australian man to win the singles title in Melbourne since Mark Edmondson in 1976, and the first Australian man to win a major singles title anywhere since Lleyton Hewitt won Wimbledon in 2002. He has hinted that he’ll retire if he does. One thing is certain: Kyrgios has earned the right to be considered a contender, and with the withdrawal of several stars, including Alcaraz and Osaka, the spotlight is sure to follow his every tweener.
I’ve spent the past six months trying to understand what makes Nick Kyrgios Nick Kyrgios. How the brilliance and belligerence can coexist in one man. How the man who delivers groceries to neighbors during a pandemic can also hurl obscenities at his team. How the man who plays Pictionary on Zoom with sick kids can also smash rackets and smack balls into the stands. How one man’s teddy bear can be another man’s bully.
I keep going back to something he said at the US Open.
“I thought the pressure would be off me after Wimbledon, but for me personally, I didn’t think I’d be putting this amount of pressure on myself. Every day I come in, I watch what I eat, I try and get sleep, every practice session I try to have good intent.
“I almost don’t know who I am anymore.”