I’ll always maintain that 19 is too young to make major, life-altering decisions, but that’s because when I was 19 I dropped out of college to spend more time with my girlfriend and Nintendo Gamecube. I did that instead of going to Honours English because it was fun, and because I was too young and stupid to know the damage I was doing to myself.
Not long after the girlfriend dumped me, and even the Gamecube couldn’t satiate me for long. Also rent was due on the garage-apartment I was living in and I was forced to look for a job. I wound up working at Walmart for a couple years – long enough to make me realize that I needed to go back to college if I was ever going to have a decent life.
World-class tennis is a far cry from an aspiring non-Walmart worker in Alabama, but at some point we all come around to the realization life isn't about just doing what you want all the time. Nick Kyrgios, 21, faces that crossroads, though on an admittedly much bigger stage.
Reading his quotes following his dispiriting Wimbledon fourth-round loss to Andy Murray on Monday, I couldn’t help but envision all the hot takes and columnists piling on to just another entitled millennial. To wit:
“As soon as I lost the first set, I just lost belief.”
“I don’t love the sport. But, you know, I don’t really know what else to do without it.”
“To be honest, I woke up this morning and played computer games. Is that the greatest preparation? I don’t know. But it was fun.”
The Guardian called it a "meltdown". John McEnroe said he needs to "look in the mirror". Last year he was booed for alleged tanking, and his non-committal responses afterward only added to the vitriol.
I wince at all of this, but not because I see some jerky, gifted tennis player wasting his talents and shrugging about it. I wince because it’s pretty obvious to me, and hopefully to someone else in his life, that it’s not a mere lack of love for tennis that keeps him from some perceived great sporting heights. It’s probably deeper, and it’s probably mental, and it’s probably some form of depression.
Tell me this isn’t a cry for help: “I don’t know, just, like, one week I’m pretty motivated to train and play. I’m really looking forward to getting out there. One week I’ll just not do anything.”
If I'm not being totally off-base, and if this is a mental deficiency, that's OK. It's not a thing you love to tell yourself at 19 or 21, but I've been there, and I can attest that it's OK. These quotes strike a cord with me because they once were me.
Hopefully he treats it, and hopefully he breaks out of his youthful, unambitious mindset and becomes the top-seeded, Grand Slam-winning world-beater he could be. He’s right – computer games are fun. But enjoyment in trivial things goes away, and usually the only cure for that is age. He might not be a great tennis player by that point, but that’s his journey, not ours.
If he's genuinely not in love with anything – tennis or otherwise – that's a much deeper problem, and my hope for him is that fans and media leave him to his own headspace, because it's only there where he can find the love he lacks.
And if that love isn’t for tennis, so what? The last thing I want to read about Kyrgios is that he owes it to tennis fans to devote his life to a game because he was given these talents. No he doesn’t. He owes no tennis fan anything unless he chooses to make tennis his prerogative first.
Maybe he will, or maybe instead he’ll become a great e-sports legend, or maybe he’ll discover the cure for cancer or become a monk or whatever. He’s 21 and he’s not working at Walmart. I say he’ll be fine.
Effort is one thing, and even the player himself admits his effort was “pretty pathetic”. When the lack of effort comes from a lack of love, though, that’s deeper than a game, and we should root for him figuring that out instead of booing him for not caring as much as us.
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