Kyrgios Finding His Way

© Matt Hazlett/BNP Paribas Open

No one has ever questioned Nick Kyrgios' abilities on a tennis court. Since turning pro in 2013, the Aussie has been pegged as one of the most freakishly athletic young talents in the game, an electric, 6-foot-4 force who can impose himself at will with both an overpowering serve and a whiplash forehand that sends his opponents scampering into the corners.

"He can literally hit players off the court," said countryman John Millman. "He's got weapons on both sides, and I think he's got one of the better serves in the world."

"When the serve is on, you basically have no chance," echoed Dustin Brown.

Tomas Berdych may have put it best: "He's part of really, like, fireworks on the court."

But while he pulled off the occasional marquee upset — Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014; Roger Federer in Madrid in 2015; Top-10 wins over Richard Gasquet, Tomas Berdych and Gael Monfils in 2016 — he could also seemingly disappear at times. We craved more consistency. Somehow he left us wanting more.

© Jared Wickerham/BNP Paribas Open

"He's got a level and intangible that -- I call it almost un-coachable," said ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert. "When he's playing these unbelievable opponents, I actually think he's more relaxed. I think he sometimes struggles when he's on the outside courts and playing lesser opponents. There’s nobody close to his talent level physically, and he’s a closer. You give him an early break and he's a closer for 25-and-under. But the maturity and match in, match out -- that's something he's searching for."

The 2017 BNP Paribas Open may just be remembered as the tournament when he really began to put that consistency together. After all, he arrived in Indian Wells on the heels of upsetting world No. 2 Novak Djokovic in Acapulco. And he’d take the Serbian down for a second time here in the fourth round, firing 14 aces and controlling the match from start to finish in a 6-4, 7-6(3) victory. Now he'll have another shot at Federer in the quarters.

It might be the wins, but the coach-less Kyrgios seems to be in a better headspace here in the desert.


"I think it's starting in practice, I guess," he said. "Every time I go on the practice court, I try and be positive, try and have fun, not being too hard on myself. I was in a pretty dark place. Even though I was at No. 13 last year, I wasn't in a good place mentally at all. I was beating myself down, and I just wasn't in a good place. Some of that's having my girlfriend [WTA Tour player Ajla Tomljanovic] back on tour. It's going to be awesome seeing her every couple weeks. My mom [Norlaila] is here. I'm just trying to stay happy and just try and enjoy my tennis a little bit.

© Billie Weiss/BNP Paribas Open

"Toward the end of last year, I was just going to places and dreading going, really dreading going to tournaments," he continued. "Didn't want to practice, didn't want to really do anything. I had a physical trainer for a little bit, but it was tough, because my team was motivated but I wasn't motivated."

Then came the 2017 Australian Open. The Canberran would let a two-sets-to-none lead slip away against Italy’s Andreas Seppi in the second round, losing 1-6, 6-7(1), 6-4, 6-2, 10-8.

"I was in a dark place, didn't want to play for a bit," said Kyrgios, reflecting on the aftermath of the disappointing loss. "I was going to take a break for who knows? I was talking to my team, like, 'I can't really play anymore.'"

© Jared Wickerham/BNP Paribas Open

Following the tournament, Kyrgios spent a few days away from the court with Tomljanovic, then kept his promise to Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt, who asked him to play the upcoming tie. In February, Kyrgios pitched in a point as Australia downed the Czech Republic 4-1 at Melbourne's Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club.

"That was the best thing I could have done, come back and be with the boys, and I found some enjoyment practicing again. I don't know what happened. Something switched, and now I'm really enjoying it again. We still talk to this day, the whole Davis Cup team. I think that's helped me the most. Having some people on my side and they have my back. So that's been the key."

"Nick is a different kind of guy. He's got a different approach to the game,” said ESPN's Chris Evert. "I remember a couple of years ago he said he doesn't like to play tennis. I really, deep down, think that he does like the game, but he doesn't especially like the attention or what goes on around it. I think he's basically a shy guy, believe it or not.

"As far as getting a coach, if he's not in the right mindset, as it seems he's not in the right mindset to get a coach, he shouldn't get a coach,” Evert added. “I think it's got to be on his terms. He's got to be ready. He's got to make the commitment. He's got to take responsibility for winning and losing, and he's not probably at that point yet. Give the guy time. Give him his space."

© Billie Weiss/BNP Paribas Open