Tennis: Nick Kyrgios needs understanding, not more criticism after US Open outburst

Andrey Rublev’s emotional mid-match breakdown in his US Open quarter-final on Thursday was as excruciating to watch as it was a timely reminder.

Athletes are often critiqued as if they should be emotionless robots, forgetting how flawed we all are – and that there is often a greater explanation.

Rublev detailed in the past how depression had impacted him, as Australia’s Nick Kyrgios did in recent months of his own “darkest periods”.

They both have a team around them but head out on court on their own and both struggled to contain their emotions in high-stakes quarter-final defeats in the last two days.

The reaction to Rublev crying and biting down on a tennis ball after conceding a third-set break was naturally different to Kyrgios’ racquet-mashing explosion immediately after his five-set defeat to Karen Khachanov.

But are the two moments so different, especially given what we know about both players?

Rublev, too, is well known, although perhaps not to many Australians, especially compared to Kyrgios, for his on-court eruptions and breaking racquets.

Kyrgios offered an insight into his psyche when he faced the world’s media post-defeat.

“I honestly feel like s—. I feel like I’ve let so many people down,” Kyrgios told reporters.

“I feel like these four tournaments are the only ones that are ever going to matter – and it’s just like you’ve got to start it all again. I have to wait until Australian Open.

“It’s just devastating, it’s heartbreaking – and not just for me, for everyone I know that wants me to win.”

Let those words soak in. They’re raw and honest but also the sign of a person still coming to terms with a five-set loss in one of the biggest matches of his life.

Then rewind to immediately after the match, when the defeat was even rawer.

Kyrgios isn’t an emotionless robot. If anything, he is bursting with emotions. Some refer to him as a ticking time bomb, which this latest incident only reinforces.

It was a shocking look and the timing of his outburst, as Khachanov thanked the crowd, was horrendous.

It’s true that lots of players handle those soul-crushing defeats without a fit of rage or bending a racquet sideways.

That doesn’t mean Nick deserves a kick. What a conga line of fans across the world love about him is that he is an individual, funnily enough like we all are, and his flaws are more visible.

Others are just better at hiding them.

Kyrgios is a human pincushion for the media and fans alike, a status that he must accept a lion’s share of responsibility for.

He makes it so easy to criticise him at times but this occasion seems different.

Critics repeatedly lambasted Kyrgios for not caring enough, which he, in part, cultivated with his half-efforts and non-stop references to loving basketball more than tennis.

But there’s been far less of that this year. Kyrgios has, perhaps, stopped fearing caring.

His girlfriend, Costeen Hatzi, appears to have been a positive influence after some major turbulence in his love life previously.

Kyrgios’ doubles pairing with close friend Thanasi Kokkinakis also looks to make him happy, even if most of us would prefer him to focus on singles.

Those developments coincided with career-best results, including winning the Australian Open doubles title and reaching the Wimbledon singles final.

Kyrgios even surprised himself with his new-found professionalism and how he is putting pressure on himself to perform, all the while dealing with being away from his sick parents.

We need to stop telling Kyrgios what is best for him and spend more time trying to understand him. That’s not always easy, especially compared to a snap judgment.

Kyrgios is not above criticism – none of us is – but there is as much to learn from his obvious growth this year as there is in the moment of madness at his most vulnerable.

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