Nick Kyrgios is the most fascinating and polarising individual in tennis.
All the controversial incidents that have occurred throughout his relatively short career polarise tennis fans. There is no in-between when it comes to the Australian: you either love him or hate him.
Those who choose to hate him, however, fail to separate the rebellious, hot-headed player on court with the charitable, kind-hearted person off it.
As the 2021 Australian Open approaches it seems like his reputation is beginning to be seen in a more positive light, and for good reason.
The Voice of Reason
Kyrgios’ image began to change in 2020 when he led the call for tennis to raise money for the Australian bushfire relief fund. An act which endeared him to the Australian public. His emotional interview where he spoke about the devastating damage the fires had inflicted, after his first match of the year, displayed how much he truly cared about his country.
In the following 12 months Kyrgios has become the voice of reason in men’s tennis, winning him further support from around the world and leading to a major shift in his public perception.
This occurred as a result of his actions during the COVID-19 pandemic when he reacted to the irresponsible behaviour of other players on the ATP Tour.
As the actions of tennis players during the pandemic, in particular Novak Djokovic, have been condemned, Kyrgios’ willingness to unapologetically speak his mind regarding his colleagues and hold them accountable has been commended.
He firstly called out Djokovic for staging the Adria Tour in June, an exhibition tennis event which had fans in attendance. Following the event, the Serbian partied with his fellow competitors which resulted in a flurry of positive cases among the players. Kyrgios then described World No. 7 Alexander Zverev as being “selfish” for attending a party in Monte-Carlo having been told to self-isolate following his participation in the event. He also fired back at fellow tour-pro Dominic Thiem who told Kyrgios to “come clean instead of criticising others.”
The majority of tennis fans along with the general public unsurprisingly sided with Kyrgios in these instances, praising him for being the most vocal critic of his irresponsible colleagues.
When the ATP Tour resumed in August 2020 after a five month break due to COVID-19, Kyrgios decided not to play. This saw him miss two Grand Slams, the US Open and French Open at Roland Garros, that were held later in the year.
Some would argue that this was a convenient excuse for him to not play a sport which he has openly stated his disdain for in the past, but his reasoning behind the decision was genuine.
In an interview with Australia’s Today Show, Kyrgios said: “I’m going to respect everyone that’s really tried to do no wrong during this time, tried to isolate themselves, trying to make sure no one else gets sick during this time.
“So, I’m going to use this to stay home, train, be with my family, be with my friends. And I’m going to act responsibly and wait until I think there’s better circumstances to play.”
These quotes were not simply an attempt to gain more public support, as his actions throughout the pandemic would back up these sentiments.
During a period in which players such as Djokovic and Zverev were behaving irresponsibly, and getting universally chastised for doing so, Kyrgios spent time during the pandemic delivering food to people in his home city of Canberra who were unable to get supplies themselves.
It has been Djokovic who has remained in Kyrgios’ firing line over recent weeks, particularly due to his list of what he called requests to improve the conditions for competitors upon arrival in Melbourne. These included reducing the days of self-isolation for players and moving as many as possible to private houses with a tennis court.
Kyrgios labelled Djokovic a “tool” in response, which has led to an ongoing war of words in press conferences between the two players, as Djokovic stated that “off the court I don’t have much respect for him.” In Australia, a country that has been exemplary in its handling of COVID-19, it is not difficult to guess who the public have backed.
The charitable efforts of top male tennis players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic are unanimously praised worldwide. Although the work that Kyrgios is doing is in its infancy in comparison, it portrays the same willingness to use his platform as an athlete to give back to those less fortunate than him.
Over the last few years Kyrgios has continued to make progress with his NK Foundation, an organisation he established in 2017 to “offer sporting opportunities to underprivileged youth” in Australia. The short-term plan is to build facilities in Melbourne and his home city of Canberra where disadvantaged children can now be afforded access to sporting facilities, including tennis courts, as well as a safe environment to spend their time.
The foundation is a family affair. Kyrgios’ older brother, Christos, and mother, Norlaila, are both heavily involved in the project.
On the NK Foundation website Kyrgios writes: “For the first time, I feel like there is a reason for what I am doing. Tennis is a great life – we are well paid and the perks are pretty good – but it can feel empty if you’re just doing it for the money. I now know what it’s all for. When I work on the NK Foundation and our Melbourne facility, I cast my mind forward to all the disadvantaged kids I will be helping. I’m playing for them now.”
This dedication to giving back shows a side of Kyrgios that many choose not to see, but due to his actions over the last year it has become hard to ignore. While some will forever criticise Kyrgios for what he has done and will likely continue to do on the tennis court, his off-court actions give us a glimpse of the type of person he really is.
Back On Court
Kyrgios is now making his return to professional tennis, and as always he will be a player that all tennis fans will want to watch due to the unique entertainment that he provides every time he plays.
Fans will also be following every outspoken comment made on social media or in press conferences. His most recent comments criticised players, including Djokovic once again, who were complaining about the strict COVID-19 quarantine measures in Australia upon arrival for the Australian tennis swing.
Thanks to his actions over the past year and his sincerity, Kyrgios has now become an athlete who the majority love. Hopefully it remains that way.
To donate to the NK Foundation visit: https://nkfoundation.com.au/