The first problem with Nick Kyrgios is Nick Kyrgios. Let's be nice and clear about that. Had enough of him? Tennis' governing body, the ATP, has too. It just handed out an eight week suspension, the longest sideline stint since a brat called McEnroe copped two bans in 1987 and 1990.
But Kyrgios is not beyond redemption. Yeah, yeah, you've been hearing that for ages, right? Well, now hear it from a bloke who knows him a lot better than most. Meet Andrew Bulley. He's a good, sensible bloke who's head coach and owner of the Canberra Tennis Academy.
He also happens to be the man who coached Nice Kyrgios for 10 years as a junior. Bulley is still in touch with the family even if he rarely speaks to Nick himself these days. But he likes, understands and still believes in the 21-year-old tennis prodigy. This is why.
When Bulley worked with Kyrgios, the two formed a rock solid bond. They were more than hitting partners, more than mentor and student. They trusted each other. And they were loyal. Bulley tells a great story about a party a couple of years back in Canberra, where someone said "oh, you're a tennis coach" after hearing a conversation involving Bulley.
Kyrgios, already a household name, edged his way into the conversation circle. "He's a not A coach, he's THE coach," he said. Which was a very cool thing to do.
Bulley was Kyrgios' personal coach for the best part of a decade until the youngster was 14 or 15. "Then his results were so good, he attracted the attention of Tennis Australia," Bulley recalled.
"They were setting up high performance academies at the time and they said 'we'll give you free coaching five days a week, weight training and all this extra stuff'. Then they parachuted a coach in and said 'this is your coach now'.
"Then the same thing happened at the AIS [Australian Institute of Sport] and he got given another coach. And he had to rebuild his relationships all over again. These people kept coming in and giving him advice, and he thinks 'you don't know me, you don't know me', and that relationship breaks down really quickly.
"I think he needs to respect the person and know the person pretty well," Bulley said. "That's why he's a bit reticent to get a coach now. He doesn't want to tell someone 'sorry mate, it's not working out' again. He doesn't want to burn someone."
The problem is, without a calm, authority figure on his entourage, Nick Kyrgios is burning himself right now. He admitted as much on Twitter after Shanghai.
Not good enough today on many levels, I'm better than that. I can go on about excuses but there are none. Sorry #StillAWorkInProgress 🙏🏽😢😞— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) 12 de outubro de 2016
He was even more classy in the apology after the ban posted on his website.
Following the ATP's decision today I would like to take this opportunity to apologise again for the circumstances in Shanghai. The season has been a long one as I battled several injuries and other challenges towards the end of the summer. The Asian circuit was particularly tough after the long week and win in Tokyo and with the travel throughout the continent, my body finally just gave out in Shanghai both physically and mentally. This is no excuse, and I know very well that I need to apologise to the fans – in Shanghai and in other parts of the world – as well as the tournament organisers in Shanghai who do an amazing job. I of course know how important the fans are to the success of our sport and I personally love the interaction with fans in the many different cities throughout the world on the tennis circuit. I am someone who gives a huge amount of time to my fans because I love and value their support. Their energy is what motivates me to reach for the top of the game. I regret that my year is ending this way and that I will not have a chance to continue chasing the ATP Finals. This was an important goal for me. I do understand and respect the decision by the ATP and I will use this time off to improve on and off the court. I am truly sorry and look forward to returning in 2017.
Bulley said there's little doubt Kyrgios wrote that apology himself because "it has that Nick vibe about it". And let's be frank here -- it is syllable perfect. If you wanted to slap him before you read it, you wanted to hug him after it. The behaviour that preceded the apology might be inexcusable, but these are the words of not just a sensitive soul, but an intelligent person. Seriously, do you think certain other tennis brats could write a mea culpa like that? Unlikely.
Andrew Bulley doesn't have the answer to who or what can help Nick from here. It remains no sure thing that he will pursue a tennis career at all into his 20s, as revealed in a well-read profile on him before the U.S. Open.
But whatever happens, Bulley retains faith in Nick Kyrgios' ability to master the difficult sport of self control -- a challenge perhaps more momentous than wining Wimbledon.
"That is soooo Nick," he said of his former prodigy's website apology. "He is switched on, he's is such a good dude. That was a great way to address the issue. He knows he stuffed up and let's hope next time we can laugh about it. There is a redemption story there."
The redemption story, if indeed there really is to be one, starts with Kyrgios and girlfriend Alja Tomljanovich, who'll likely be spending most of the next weeks together, hitting balls at their base in Florida.
All we can say for sure is that random people telling Nick Kyrgios to behave better won't make him behave better. That doesn't make him irredeemable. It makes him a 21-year-old. But someone is needed. Pat Cash half put his hand up for the job in a piece he wrote on Tuesday. He might not be the answer but as Andrew Bulley pointed out, somebody is.
And if Nick Kyrgios finds a trusted mentor, then fails to change his ways way under his or her guidance, it will then be safe to toss him into the waste bin of dickheads. But we're not there quite yet. We're getting closer, but we're not all the way there.Suggest a correction