This time, Nick Kyrgios must be willing to confront his demons

“There is no excuse”: Kyrgios’ apology in full


While Andy Murray is not convinced that fines will help or change Nick Kyrgios, the world No.2 is yet to comment on the suspension also handed to the tormented young Australian. Yet just as Murray’s call in Shanghai for more open discussions around the mental health issues facing the game’s young players were considered and insightful, the unusual treatment element of the ATP’s stick-and-carrot sanction is making its own statement.

Kyrgios has apparently agreed to submit to the “plan of care under the direction of a sports psychologist” or an approved equivalent, that will reduce his ban from eight playing weeks to three. But the time is not the issue here, with the off-season imminent and any slim chance of qualifying for the World Tour Finals now over. A year that started in the shadow of a suspended ban has finished in the embarrassing glare of a real one.

The ATP had to act, and Kyrgios is fortunate that the penalty was not even more drastic, for it was obvious just a few minutes into that disturbing performance against Mischa Zverev in Shanghai that the world No14 was ripe for a meltdown. Despite the muttering and head-shaking having started at 0-1, there is nevertheless no satisfaction in having said to media colleagues at that moment that this one was not going to end well.

But just how badly it turned out to be could not have been guessed at. Not the blatant lack of a competitive effort, the bizarre interactions with the chair umpire, the verbal stoush with the spectator who told him to respect the game, or the nose-thumbing post-match press conference that tour officials also considered in making their judgment.

From the outside, it seems there is plenty about tennis that Kyrgios is struggling to handle. The night before his first match in Shanghai, having arrived from a fine week and the biggest title of his career in Tokyo, he did a round-table interview with a small group of journalists. Although his answers were OK, apart from an obvious – but also understandable – impatience when asked about his past declarations about not loving tennis, it was the lack of eye contact that was most disconcerting, his gaze mostly fixed on the floor.

Even before leaving Japan, the theme of one of his victory tweets was that #thegrindcontinues. During his first-round win in China, he attributed his cool air of control to not just fatigue but boredom. Admittedly, how much store to place in comments like these is debatable, as the Canberran’s bravado can be as transparent as his insecurities.

Whether a sports pyschologist is what Kyrgios requires is impossible to say, because the youngest member of the elite top 15 has consulted experts before and yet, well, here we are. The hope this time is that he sees a genuine need and reason to be there; as wise owl Murray commented on Thursday, all players have the option of seeking suitable assistance, but leading young brumbies to water is no guarantee they will drink.

“It’s just about deciding when the time is right that ‘I really need this at my stage of my career’. It comes to people at different times,” said the Wimbledon and Olympic champion. “The worst thing is going to see someone when you don’t want to. You need to be … ready to open up to someone. If you’re not and you get pushed into that situation, you will have a bad experience, so it’s when the time is right, and you take it from there.”

Kyrgios continues to blame mental and physical exhaustion for what he accepts – outwardly at least – was inexcusable, but clearly there is more to these regrettable repeat offences than fatigue. Public sentiment, at least some of it, also seems to be shifting from the standard “Kyrgios, what a dickhead” chorus to a realisation that there is something wrong that the 21-year-old needs some help to try to get right.

If part of that involves a break that extends well beyond the suspension rightly deemed necessary by the ATP, then Kyrgios should take it and return only when he is ready. Given that the pressures and stresses at this level of elite sport can be challenging even for the most emotionally robust to manage, Kyrgios needs to find a better way. For his own sake.