Why is this man smiling so broadly?
And on a tennis court?
After a victory, when he can so often either look nonplussed or annoyed?
The 22-year-old Aussie is looking as good right now as he has in five months, before his hip issues hit and some off-court distractions had his mind and heart elsewhere.
And his reward is a spot in the Cincinnati final Sunday,. It will be his first appearance in a final at the Masters 1000 level. He’ll play No. 7 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.
In the span of three weeks through Acapulco, Indian Wells and Miami back in March, Kyrgios defeated Alexander Zverev twice. He defeated Novak Djokovic twice. And after defaulting to him at Indian Wells, Kyrgios gave champion Roger Federer everything he could handle in a 7-6 (9), 6-7 (9), 7-6 (5) defeat in the Miami semifinals.
Since then, a lot of struggles.
But this week, the mercurial Aussie defeated Ivo Karlovic. He then schooled Rafael Nadal – both in the same day on Friday. If the hip was going to act up, Saturday would have been the day. But Kyrgios defeated David Ferrer 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) Saturday night in a match that engaged both players, separately and together.
Kyrgios smiling on a tennis court is rare enough. Seeing the uber-intense Ferrer smiling on a tennis court on such a big occasion, at such a key moment, is equally rare. And yet, it happened on several occasions.
Each in their own way, they actually appeared to be enjoying it. And the contrast in styles that can so often make for a compelling match was there in spades for this one. If the crowd – a midwestern crowd not exactly inclined to cheer for the outlier type – seemed to be on Ferrer’s side, it was more than likely because they wanted another set of this.
For Kyrgios, things appear to be falling back into place again. And it couldn’t have happened at a better time, with the US Open just around the corner.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) August 20, 2017
D.C. a turning point
A couple of weeks ago at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., Kyrgios retired in the second set of his first-round match against Tennys Sandgren.
A few weeks before, he had retired after losing the first two sets to Pierre-Hugues Herbert at Wimbledon. And a couple of weeks before that, he had retired at Queen’s Club after losing the first set to Donald Young.
After that match in D.C., Kyrgios spent a few days on site, hanging with his pal Jack Sock. He was trying to decide whether it was even worth going to Montreal to try to play the Rogers Cup.
We saw him coming out of the gym early one afternoon on the Friday of that week, asked him how he was. He just shook his head.
But not an hour later, he was out on the practice court, giving some young guys the memory of their young lives.
When he was hitting for real, he kept up a monologue for the benefit of the fans who were watching him. With gallows humor, he moaned that his girlfriend had dumped him, and that he couldn’t even play tennis, and that things in Kyrgiosville were pretty grim, pretty much.
"I used to be good, man. My girlfriend dumped me and now I can't play." Kyrgios shooting the breeze with fans. People are loving it. pic.twitter.com/YgCUQp5lEj
— Blair Henley (@BlairHenley) August 4, 2017
Positive signs in Montreal
In the end, Kyrgios decided to go to Montreal. And in defeating Viktor Troicki and Paolo Lorenzi – easily – he won his first back-to-back matches since the Mutua Madrid Open in early May. He lost to eventual champion Zverev.
He had some fun there, too, inviting a Twitter follower to find him and come hit with him. Which the fellow did.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) August 8, 2017
His hip issue is ongoing, but Kyrgios has increased the tennis load on it. And it seems, from week to week, that it’s responding.
Other than an ill-fated Tweener here and there, Kyrgios has seem fully engaged in the process of trying to win a big tournament in Cincinnati.
He admits that it’s a lot easier to get motivated against the best players, on the biggest stages, noting that his loss to little-known Argentine Nicolas Kicker in Lyon, France earlier this year came in front of about “15 people”.
There’s literally no bigger stage in tennis than Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Kyrgios also plans to play doubles with his mate Matt Reid, for whom he had a special message after the victory.
During his press conference Saturday, Kyrgios gave Reid a shut out out for helping him climb out of the hole he was in in D.C., and be able to rise to what he’s been able to do this week in Cincinnati.
— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) August 20, 2017
And with the notable absentees and the general state of health at the top of the men’s game, there’s an opening for someone, if they can keep their head together and survive best-of-five sets in the late August New York City heat.
It might be just a Nick-tease. Who knows what will happen in Sunday’s final. All the tennis might catch up to the hip and if Kyrgios isn’t feeling 100 per cent, it might not be pretty. He is the tennis equivalent to Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.
But if he can keep it going another few weeks, who knows where it could lead?
Kyrgios is already back in the top 20 with his efforts this week after falling out of it last week for the first time since May of 2016. He’ll be at No. 18 if he loses Sunday, No. 12 if he wins.
With the known absences in New York (Djokovic, Wawrinka, Nishikori), Kyrgios would be seeded no worse than No. 9 at the US Open, in that case. Even if he loses, he’ll be inside the top 16 seeds.
As well, if he wins Sunday, Kyrgios would shoot up to No. 10 in the race to the ATP Tour finals in London. With Wawrinka and Djokovic, technically ahead of him, already out, that puts him at No. 8.