Nick Kyrgios Australian Open: The 20 Seconds That Could Change Everything

11/01/2016 2:00 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Nick Kyrgios, of Australia, reacts between points against Andy Murray, of Britain, during the first round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

After winning the Hopman Cup on the weekend alongside Russian-turned-Aussie Dasha Gavrilova, you can't help wondering: can Nick Kyrgios can make a serious run at the 2016 Australian Open which starts on January 17?

On the surface the signs are good. Although the Hopman Cup is always somewhere between an exhibition tournament and a serious event, Kyrgios played some great tennis in Perth -- including a career first victory over World Number Two Andy Murray.

There are other positive signs. Krygios is currently sporting a much less silly hairstyle hair than he wore for most of 2015. Maybe that's an incidental detail. But it might also be a sign that he's thinking a lot harder about tennis than his self-styled wild child image.

Whatever state of mind the 20-year-old Canberran is in right now, the way forward for next week's Australian Open and for the rest of his career is clear. If Nick Kyrgios is to become more than an occasional giant killer, and a regular contender for the world's biggest tournaments, he has to own the 20 seconds between points. Here's what we mean by that.

Late in 2015, this reporter spoke to Andrew Bulley, who was young Nick's coach in his formative tennis years in Canberra. Bulley spoke about Kyrgios's unique way of operating on court.

“He is not one of those athletes who can focus the whole time he’s on court. He can go in and out of focus a bit,” Bulley explained at the time.

Athletes often speak of being "in the zone". Their goal, when performing, is unrelenting concentration and focus. That's the norm for most sportspeople. But Kyrgios is different. He's that one-in-100 sportsperson who operates better when he deliberately steps in and out of focus.

There are 20 seconds between points at major tennis tournaments, give or take. As we all know, that's when Nick Kyrgios tunes out. In those 20 seconds, he momentarily puts aside the mental intensity required to play a point of tennis. In theory, the break recharges him for the next point.

Reality hasn't quite worked out that way. As Nick Kyrgios momentarily sheds his tennis focus and engages with the crowd, or indulges in a bit of banter with his opponent, bad stuff tends to happen.

The low point was the slur against Stan Wawrinka last year. Just not classy at all. There have been other moments he'd no doubt like to strike from the record.

The one crowd this week wasn't so bad. Between points in the Murray match at the Hopman Cup, a spectator yelled something which got under Kyrgios' skin.

“Are you playing?”, Kyrgios replied. "Do you want to come down here and play? You just sit in your comfy chair. You just sit in your comfy seat and watch."

That moment was written up in a pretty negative way by several media outlets. If you ask us, it was actually a pretty good sledge. But it was still an example of Nick Kyrgios not using his 20 seconds of tune-out time wisely.

"I think the public need to cut Nick a bit of slack and he’s got to come and meet them halfway," said Andrew Bulley last year.

Lleyton Hewitt schoed this last week, when he said “Nick is very talented and his potential is unlimited, however we need to be patient, support and work with Nick.”

So while we, the tennis-viewing public, settle in for the last great sporting act of summer, we'll all be hoping that Nick Kyrgios continues his public transformation into the the considerate, inspirational, non-wanker of a bloke that everybody who's worked with him swears him to be.

And while we work on our perceptions, Nick Kyrgios can work on his double-handed backhand and those 20 seconds between points. Actually the backhand will look after itself. But if Kyrgios gets those 20 seconds right, he could be unstoppable.


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