This year will at the very least be remembered as a time of extreme ups and downs for Nick Kyrgios – two tour titles, a searing podcast interview where the biggest tennis names were in his sights and perhaps his biggest on-court meltdown – but there might not be another time in his five years in the tennis spotlight when what happens next has been harder to predict.
Title number two came in Washington earlier this month and again showed Kyrgios' potential. Then, two weeks later, his exit in Cincinnati coincided with some ugly scenes where he smashed two racquets, said to chair umpire Fergus Murphy that "you're a f—ing tool, bro", and also appeared to spit in his direction.
Nick Kyrgios will play in primetime in the first round of the US Open.Credit:Getty Images
The 24-year-old copped a decent whack when the ATP fined him $US113,000 ($167,000), made up of several separate fines for his series of misdemeanours, but left open the prospect of suspension with the US Open on the horizon.
That never eventuated; Kyrgios is seeded in New York, and tournament officials scheduled his opening match against local Steve Johnson as the feature men's match on night two on Louis Armstrong Stadium (Wednesday morning AEST).
As part of their promotion, the Tennis Channel posted the following comment: "You never know what to expect when it comes to @NickKyrgios. Will he boom or bust this tournament??"
Kyrgios' combustibility is undoubtedly a lure broadcasters use to attract as many viewers as possible. Can you blame them? When Kyrgios is on court, you simply can't look away.
Interestingly, the same Tennis Channel promotion was accompanied with some heartfelt comments and serious analysis from senior tennis figures – Martina Narvatilova and Jim Courier for starters – where concern was openly expressed for his welfare. It's a common refrain. Tennis people openly talk about the volatile Kyrgios, and how managing him is a fine balancing act. Crucially, there's almost always a rider: no one ever excuses or condones his behaviour when it gets ugly.
Noticeably, what Navratilova said on the eve of the tournament cut to the chase.
"There's no question he needs some help. That's definitely above our pay grade. Mentally, he needs some help," said the winner of 18 majors.
"I would like for him to do his talking with his racquet rather than breaking them and rather than with his mouth. He needs to start winning matches, then he can talk.
"We can't give a moral pass to someone just because they are potentially a great tennis player."
Two-time Australian Open champion Courier, however, lent an ear of sympathy, and noted the Australian's effort to land two titles this year.
"He also continues to struggle emotionally and I think we need to spare a little bit of a thought for
him," Courier said.
"Definitely not condoning his behaviour. Does he need some mental health help? Is it actually something that is medical? We don't know the answer to that.
"He's a guy who polarises and he can play some electric tennis but, man, it's been tough to watch at times."
Kyrgios couldn't resist biting back, choosing to retweet the Tennis Channel post with the following message: "People that are irrelevant in my personal life are trying to make comments on my personal character. Well done."
There's often tiptoeing around the volatile Australian whenever his name is mentioned. Novak Djokovic, when briefly asked about the Kyrgios fine and whether the ATP players' council gets consulted, chose his words carefully in his role as president.
"As far as I am informed, we did not speak about, you know, fining any player so far. And I've been in council for, in total, I think, seven, eight years," said Djokovic.
"The management decides and the board decides … together I guess also with the tournament because they have to evaluate what is the damage."
So the question remains: what will Kyrgios do these two weeks in New York? He has an opportunity to replicate his good form in Washington – where he beat Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas – and make something of run. Given he's among the seeds again and he can't confront any of the Big Three – Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – any earlier than the semi-finals, opportunity knocks.
Over to you, Nick.
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