Our lucky seventh Player to Watch for 2014 is so watchworthy that everyone and their grandmothers have already written a “one to watch” profile about him in the past few weeks. Indeed, his press has been so prevalent that I was almost dissuaded from including him on my PTW roster just because the choice is so ridiculously en vogue (and I’m so ridiculously anti-mainstream).
Alas, even though his profiles have become a dime a dozen, by putting in my own 2 cents I hope to make this profile worth at least 12¢. I guarantee mine will have more nonsense in it. #MyPromiseToYou
According to his first coach, he was a chubby kid who was a bit slow on the court. But his will to win also bore him results at an early age. At age 15, he made the Round of 16 at the 2011 Australian Open Junior Championships. He won a Grade 2 Juniors vs. Herkko Pollanen at the Dunlop Japan Open and had wins over Thiago Montiero and Nikola Milojevic in other ’11 tourneys.
He really began making a name for himself in 2012 on the doubles court, taking back-to-back dubs titles with partner Andrew Harris at the Roland Garros and Wimbledon Junior Championships, although he did post a win over PTW #6, Gianluigi Quinzi, on the singles court at Roehampton in between those two benchmarks (and, you know, also lose to Quinzi on the Wimby singles court. But that’s not important right now.)
So who is this mystery man? Well, you’ve really done very poorly if you’ve not guessed it’s none other than Nick Kyrgios (especially because his name’s just under the title).
Kyrgios made the quarterfinals of the US Open Junior Championships, losing to Filip Peliwo, and followed up his junior Slam exploits with two junior tourney wins (beating PTW #1 Borna Coric in Osaka) and a slammin’ semifinal showing at the Australia F10 Futures, beating compatriot Luke Saville in the quarters.
This year, Kyrgios has nicked up the field in a way that has boys and pros alike licking their wounds, going 21/2 in the juniors and 27/9 in the seniors for an overall winning percentage of over 81%.
Against the kids (most of whom were older than him, mind you), he took home titles at the Grade 1 Traralgon, The Australian Open Junior Championships (without losing a set) and Roehampton. His only losses were to strong PTW candidates Karen Khachanov at Roland Garros and Hyeon Chung at Wimbledon. Plus he closed out his junior career on a winning note, taking another Wimby doubles crown with Thanasi Kokkinakis.
On the senior side, Kyrgios had hoped to get his ranking into the Top 300 at the start of the year. Welp, mission accomplished as he made it all the way up ATP #177, a mere 663-spot ascension on the rankings ladder, sweeping the Sydney Challenger in March and claiming the China F3 Futures crown the day after his 18th birthday in April.
He then had the best result of his career, memorably beating Radek Stepanek in three tiebreaks of ascending difficulty in the 1st round of Roland Garros, men’s division. He also qualified at the US Open, making a memorable first impression on David Ferrer, and semifinaled at the Sacramento Challenger. In addition, Nick practiced with Novak Djokovic on Novak’s birthday, “so it was a pretty good present for him,” he joked.
Nick emerged from this year as the first 1995-born player to notch a Challenger title and a match win in a Slam. And he got to debut in his first David Cup tie, playing a live doubles rubber with The Gooch, Chris Guccione.
Gamewise, Kyrgios has more weapons than Call of Duty: Ghosts. Huge serve and can easily hit for winners off both wings (though he wings it even harder off the forehand side). Solid volleying (as evidenced by his doubles achievements), and really goes for it on big points (and small points, too. But the bigger the point, the bigger he goes).
Pretty decent movement for a former “fat kid”, too. These days, he’s turned all that to muscle and already has a physique that can go toe to toe with the pros, which is rare for a teen. He has some issues with a too-fiery temperament (courtesy of his will to win), but is working on it. You can get a sense of nearly every last one of these allegations via this highlight vid of his match with Ferrer:
If you have more time on your hands, I highly encourage you to watch this Oz Open Boys first set against fellow Aussie wunderkind Thanasi Kokkinakis, which is where I first watched these two unbelievable talents:
As a bonus, Nick’s got personality for days, though he sometimes strays too far into the realm of self-promotion* (says the guy who links all his previous articles into his current articles, haha). Like Quinzi, he’s a very vocal guy both on and off the court. “My game revolves around a lot of energy and trying to get under the other player’s skin,” he said after a win against top-seeded Sam Groth in last year’s Australian Open Wildcard Playoff.
This can sometimes be off-putting, as Bradley Klahn found out at the Sacramento Challenger, where Kyrgios screamed into his face when both were at net during a first-set tiebreak and left Klahn fuming. As Nick progresses into the pros, I think it’d be best to leave some of the junior-level intimidation tactics in the juniors, lest someone who otherwise comes off as a good guy be brandished as a villain.
The other downside to all this upside is that Nick limped to the finish line this season, shutting it down early in October due to an elbow injury.
He had to pull out of Tiburon and Stockholm and only played one elbow-addled match at the Melbourne Challenger in late-October before pulling the curtains entirely on his 2013 campaign.
I really hope this isn’t going to be a chronic injury and has more to do with the fact he’s still growing. He’s got a WC to play his first ever main-draw ATP match at Brisbane at the start of 2014, so I hope the 2013 Male Junior Athlete of the Year can get out of the blocks healthy in the new year and show us even more of what he can do at the professional level.