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In Atlanta field packed with home favorites, Nick Kyrgios remains the main eventBy Jul 29, 2022
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The Summer of Nick
In Atlanta field packed with home favorites, Nick Kyrgios remains the main event
Not many players would receive such a warm reception from fans after withdrawing mere minutes before his first-round contest, but it’s all part of the Aussie’s appeal.
Published Jul 29, 2022
The Summer of Nick
As tennis players and fans make their way toward the US Open, we'll take a closer look at the past, present and future of Nick Kyrgios—someone who has made plenty of headlines, good and bad, in previous hard-court summers. Like Kyrgios, where this series takes us in anyone's guess.
Most memorable moment, Atlanta: In 2016, Nick defeated three-time defending champion John Isner, 7-6, 7-6, to win his second career title. Beating the American in Georgia—and in two tiebreaks—might lowkey be one of the most impressive accomplishments in tennis.
ATLANTA, Ga.—Before and after every match at the Atlanta Open, a wall of flames erupts from the graphic screen that wraps around the court. It’s an extremely accurate visual representation of what it feels like to watch a match on Stadium Court in late July—especially during the day session, which starts close to high noon and leaves fans, ball kids and even players ducking for any sliver of shade.
Nick Kyrgios wouldn’t know much about Atlanta day sessions, but he certainly knows how to bring the heat at every court he steps on. It’s been a hot minute since the 2016 champion has played under the Georgia sun—the Aussie is exclusively night session material at Atlantic Station these days, as one of the biggest draws at the ATP 250 event.
His gravitational pull has only grown stronger in 2022, a year which started with him lifting his first Grand Slam trophy in doubles at the Australian Open, and continued with an emotionally charged run to the Wimbledon final in singles last month.
There were no points awarded to Kyrgios for the biggest achievement of his career—if there had been, the Aussie would be the top seed in Atlanta, not the seventh. But even still, in a field packed with American stars and home favorites—led by six-time champion John Isner, a former University of Georgia Bulldog—Kyrgios is the main event by a mile.
I know I'm not as entertaining as Nick. Adrian Mannarino
When a 6’4” Aussie player quietly approached an empty practice show court on Monday evening, head down and lugging several tennis bags, one event security guard whipped his head around.
“Are you, uh, you’re the…” the guard attempted to ask. Behind us, a few fans milling about suddenly became laser focused on their conversation.
“Nah, mate,” replied Thanaski Kokkinakis, smiling apologetically as the fans dispersed, “I’m the other one.”
It’s the same sentiment that was later echoed by Adrian Mannarino on Tuesday night, when the lucky loser replaced Kygrios in the draw after he withdrew from the singles competition due to a left knee injury: "I know I'm not as entertaining as Nick," he told the Atlanta crowd, after his 6-3, 7-6 (7) victory over qualifier Peter Gojowczyk.
Never mind that Mannarino came up with some striking winners himself, and treated fans to a down-to-the-wire tiebreak win. Never mind that Kokkinakis was a Grand Slam doubles champion himself, too, partnering Kyrgios to victory in Melbourne. They’re just not Nick Kyrgios.
Tennis commentators, pundits and fans online remain deeply divided in their verdict of Kyrgios, with the same circular arguments of “His reckless behavior is not good for the sport” vs “His entertaining style is selling out tickets” cropping up every few months. In a few weeks, an actual Australian court will weigh in on Kyrgios too, after an ex-girlfriend brought a domestic abuse charge against the player.
But in the stands, the camaraderie between Kyrgios and his enthusiastic fans is plain to see.
After all, not many players would receive such a warm reception after withdrawing mere minutes before a first-round contest—let alone the marquee night match. In a black hoodie and shorts, Kyrgios came out on court and faced the crowd with his head high, standing with tournament director Eddie Gonzalez to announce the disappointing news.
"I wanted to come out here and see you guys face-to-face to tell you that I love you guys,” Kyrgios said. “Hopefully next year in singles I'll be able to compete and give it my all…
“All I wanted to do was come out there and give you guys a show and obviously see what I’m capable of, but I’m unable to give my best performance today.”
The initial shock and disappointment was sharp, but Kyrgios quickly smoothed things over with the announcement that he’d still make a go of it in doubles with Kokkinakis, and stayed on court to sign a few autographs. Soon, everything was forgiven and the Kyrgios show was back on.
Kyrgios and Kokkinakis moved into the semifinals in Atlanta after defeating Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the opening round and Gonzalo Escobar and Hunter Reese in the quarterfinals, both in straight sets.
A Kyrgios doubles match is almost always a special treat for tennis fans, with team-centered competitions bringing the best out of the 27-year-old.
In doubles, Kyrgios’ signature mid-match chatter and running commentary are still there. But instead of being directed toward berating his own team, it’s directed toward pumping up Kokkinakis. In the quiet between points, you could hear him tell his longtime friend and countryman to relax after missing a serve, to shake it off after being targeted by opponents. He celebrated Kokkinakis' winners even more than his own.
And the drama is still there too. When Kyrgios—who is infamous for blowing up at on-court officials for any perceived offense or mistake—approached the chair umpire to clarify why a point was awarded to Escobar and Reese, the crowd roared in anticipation. But after some back and forth, Kyrgios let the matter go. He turned to Kokkinakis with a shrug and a grin, and the chatter continued along with quite a few highlight reel-worthy winners.
Soon after, flames encircled Stadium Court in Atlanta once again. The Kyrgios show, unpredictable and entertaining as ever, goes on.