It was a three-word tweet which spoke volumes. No sooner had Andy Murray completed his remarkable ascension to the top of men’s tennis, Nick Kyrgios paid homage on social media. “U the man” wrote the Australian before posting a picture of him rubbing Murray’s head. A heartwarming tennis “bromance” for the ages.
Though as the 21-year-old licks his wounds following a meltdown in Shanghai last month which earned severe ATP sanctions and sessions with a sports psychologist, watching his buddy reach for the stars can only have a positive effect. There is, after all, much of Murray in Kyrgios. Both are hot-headed, emotional, complex characters. Their respective countries have endured a relative dearth of success which brings its own pressures.
The best sportsmen are often enigmas, curious puzzles which are fiendishly difficult to solve. Both fall into that category, yet are also rampaging talents on the tennis court. And, that’s why Murray, a world-class superstar with no airs or graces, has constantly been available to help the young Australian deal with the troubles which pollute his undoubted brilliance with racquet in hand.
“Dealing with criticism is hard to take, but Andy has been there and been brilliant with Nick in helping him understand the process,” a source close to Kyrgios told the Guardian. “There’s no manual on how to deal with being famous. He tells him not to get carried away when everything is going to plan and tells him straight when it starts to get ugly. Nick looks up to him more than anyone. There is no one he respects more, and seeing what Andy has achieved is all he needs to take his career forward.”
The Scot is always available – text, WhatsApp, call, or email. Novak Djokovic has also opened the airwaves, something for which he has been appreciative, yet Murray is Kyrgios’s go-to man. The pair are planning a training block together in the coming months. Murray, a relentless athlete in the gym, wouldn’t invite just anyone into the sweatbox of his inner sanctum. He recognises that Kyrgios works hard off the court, even if his demeanour invites large swathes of criticism from those who are unable to see the whole picture.
Certainly among his peers, the Australian isn’t shunned in the locker room or given the cold shoulder. Of course, he’s not everyone’s cup of tea. His relationship with Stan Wawrinka suffered following their unseemly bust-up last August but has now healed. Yet his tennis talents help him earn respect with others.
On tour, a senior group including Murray, Jo Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils, and John Isner will hang out with him in foreign climes. In hotel rooms, gaming-console duels on Fifa are keenly fought. Undoubtedly, the battles in Kyrgios’ mind are harder to combat.
Yet, Murray knows the pitfalls in which younger players can find themselves. The 29-year-old has been there. Hitting the ball over the net is the straightforward part. Dealing with strains and stresses of sporting stardom, however, is a harder nut to crack and one with which Kyrgios has struggled.
The meltdown in Asia was symptomatic of his inability to cope. With Tokyo tournament sponsor Yonex earmarking one of their clients, Kyrgios, as a marquee player, everyone wanted a piece. The off-court demands were incessant, yet there we no complaints. It’s all part of the game.
A superb week, one of the best in his career, which resulted in a winner’s trophy, soon followed but within 48 hours, he was in Shanghai, starting all over again. No gap, no time for breathing space. The denouement was brutal and the repercussions seismic. Something had to give, and even though Sam Querrey was dispatched in straight sets, against Germany’s Mischa Zverez, he cracked. Serving underarm and arguing with fans is never a good idea.
It looked awful. The critics once again had bucketloads of ammunition to unload. The firestorm blazed. How could it not? “It was terrible and Nick knows he has to do better than that,” the source said. “It was constant between Tokyo and Shanghai. Playing and doing everything else has taken its toll.
“But dealing with everything that comes with being one of the best players in the world is a learning process, and that’s where someone like Andy can come in and help. Nick loves him.”
Now is the time for this supremely talented student to follow his world-dominating teacher’s lead. There is no better role model.
This article was written by Steve Brenner, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 9th November 2016 00.30 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010