Inside Nick Kyrgios’s pink headphones, there are probably a thousand loud sounds that drown out the roar of disapproval that visits him almost daily, however many times he says he’s sorry for, well, being Nick.
For Andy Murray, eight years older and waiting the arrival of his first child, the soundtrack to his life now is mellifluous and soothing, a lullaby, perhaps, rather than the rapper Drake, whose music Kyrgios once playfully blamed for losing him a match.
But Murray understands better than most the strain of being young, famous and bothered. He was a little like that himself once – without, maybe, the strident edge that Kyrgios has brought to the art of being a celebrity youth.
On Tuesday here at the loudest tournament in tennis, they will make music together, probably under lights on the revamped Arthur Ashe stadium, in what surely will be the most entertaining first-round match of the 2015 US Open.
With Kyrgios, it is as well to expect the unexpected, says Murray of the kid who will spend the next six months – but not at this tournament -worrying about a suspended fine and one-month ban hanging over his head for those indiscrete words whispered near a Montreal microphone at Stan Wawrinka.
Murray and Kyrgios have played three times and on each occasion the Scot has outfoxed the prodigy from Canberra. But, as always, he is taking nothing for granted. He probably will be more on edge than Kyrgios, who brings an almost hypnotic air to his languid game.
“Every match is a new match,” Murray says. “You can obviously learn from previous matches and see what things worked and what things didn’t, but he might come in and do something completely different against me this time, so I need to be prepared for that.
“He’s quite an unpredictable player, so you need to expect that when you go on the court. I’ve played well against him the three times we’ve played.
“I’ve played good matches. But he’s obviously a top player. He obviously just missed out on a seeding here and I’m sure he’ll be one of the top players at this event in the next few years.
“He likes playing on big stages. That’s where he’s played his best tennis throughout his career. Last year he only won one or two matches outside of slams; this year his results have been inconsistent but, at the slams, he made the quarters in Australia, I played him in the third round at the French and, at Wimbledon, he was close to reaching the quarters again there. So I would expect him to be ready for the match. He gets himself fired up for the big events.”
All kind words dutifully recorded: but there is little doubt this is a match loaded with anxiety on both sides of the net. Fall at the first hurdle, and Murray would be pitched into a nose-dive of disappointment; win, and Kyrgios is propelled one step further into the same quarter of the draw as Wawrinka.
Murray, though, is commendably understanding of the dilemma the young man has constructed for himself with his breezy asides and seething resentment of authority.
Asked why he seemed to be so supportive of Australia’s most notorious sporting larrikin, Murray said, “It’s not about coming out in favour. He’s a young guy, and we all make mistakes. Everyone that’s here recording this, when they were 19, 20 has done some bad things and made mistakes.
“For him it happens in front of millions of people and I just think that it’s wrong, a lot of the things he’s done, but I also think that he’s still a young guy and people mature, grow up at different rates. Not everyone’s exactly the same. Everyone is different. He’ll learn.
“I don’t think he’s a bad guy. I don’t think he’s a bad person at all. He’s an unbelievably talented guy with a lot of potential. He’s going to be around the top of the game for awhile. I think a little bit of patience is important when it comes to Nick, because he’s a young guy and it’s not easy growing up in the spotlight. It’s not easy.”
That repetition emphasised a subtle point: Murray has been there, maybe not with a megaphone (or pink headphones), but bearing the weight of a nation’s expectations when plainly unprepared for it. He once was a mumbling teenager himself, but, as he pointed out, he has learned in the heat of the media glare, and he carries those expectations so much more ably now than he did when growing up in public.
So, who wins? Murray. Regardless of the potential of Kyrgios’s game, it is Murray who has won an Olympic gold medal and two slams, the first of them here three years ago. It is Murray who has not dropped a set against Kyrgios in wins at the Rogers Cup in Canada last year, and the Australian Open and the French this year.
Kyrgios had a bad back in Melbourne and a failing elbow in Paris, so those are legitimate excuses for not being properly in the fight. But Murray is fully fit and, after beating Novak Djokovic in Montreal and reaching the semi-finals in Cincinnati, he is happy with his game.
“I took a couple of days off after Cincinnati,” he says. “I practised off-site yesterday and the next couple of days I’ll be here training. I’m not doing loads of long sessions. I’m doing shorter, more specific work, because I feel like I’ve done enough work the last few weeks and I just need to get my game ready for the beginning of the event.”
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