WASHINGTON (AP) — Greek – Australian Nick Kyrgios dealt with back, knee and forearm issues during the Citi Open. Between doubles and singles, he played every day, all week. He saved a match point. He beat a pair of top-10 opponents, the men seeded No. 1 and No. 3 at the hard-court tournament.
In the end, he won the title, the sixth of his enigmatic career, one filled with big victories against the Big Three, yes, but also fines and controversy and a probationary period and so many ups and downs for a guy who is still just 24.
And then, after beating Daniil Medvedev 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4) in Sunday’s final of a hard-court tournament that serves as a tuneup for the U.S. Open, Kyrgios talked about how he’s a changed man.
“I just wanted to clean myself up and have healthier habits,” Kyrgios said, using his fingers to signal quotation marks around “clean.”
“It’s only the beginning,” he added, “and it showed this week by winning this tournament.”
He spoke over and over about how proud he was — not so much about the way he played tennis to earn a trophy, but the way he lived his life when he wasn’t playing.
“I had the same routine every day. And I just felt — I felt actually like a traditional tennis player this week,” said Kyrgios, who most certainly is not the sort who generally would be described that way.
Whether or not that will become a regular occurrence for the Australian remains to be seen, of course.
He said so himself.
“I feel like I’ve made major strides,” Kyrgios said. “I’m just going to take it one day at a time and hopefully I can continue on this new path.”
He wouldn’t offer any specifics about the ways in which he handled himself differently during his time in the nation’s capital.
This was a guy, though, who joked about hanging out at a local pub during Wimbledon last month — including the night before his much-hyped match against Rafael Nadal, which turned out to be a loss.
“I just had a lot of unhealthy habits,” Kyrgios said, “and it was starting to show on the tennis court. … It wasn’t healthy. So I just needed to change a lot of things.”
Asked at his news conference before 9 p.m. on Sunday night how he would celebrate his championship, Kyrgios shrugged, said he probably wouldn’t because it was “really late” and so he would head to his hotel and get ready to fly to Montreal on Monday for his next tournament.
“Just looking back at some of the places I’ve been in the last six months, it’s crazy to think how much I’ve turned it around,” Kyrgios said. “I’ve just been working really hard on and off the court to try and be better as a person and as a tennis player.”
He came into the Citi Open ranked 52nd — and left with his ranking back inside the top 30 for the first time in nearly a year.
For someone who has been as high as No. 13, and someone who insists he doesn’t care about rankings, that might not sound like a big deal.
But in this case, with the year’s last Grand Slam tournament beginning in Flushing Meadows in three weeks, it means Kyrgios would be one of the 32 seeded men, allowing him to avoid meeting another seeded player until no sooner than the third round.
Also makes it less likely he’d get a first-week matchup at the U.S. Open against a Nadal or a Roger Federer or a Novak Djokovic.
Not that Kyrgios is intimidated by that sort of matchup. He’s beaten all of them, and says frequently he knows he can beat anyone out there on a good day.
The thing with Kyrgios is that he does not always seem to be at his best, for one reason or another.
Even Medvedev referenced that reputation after seeing Kyrgios rebound from back spasms that had him laying on the court for a massage during a medical timeout after Sunday’s opening set.
“He was determined and it seemed like he wants to win,” said Medvedev, who is ranked No. 10 and was seeded third, two spots behind the player Kyrgios eliminated in the semifinals, Stefanos Tsitsipas, after facing a match point. “And that’s what we don’t see all the time.”
By HOWARD FENDRICH AP Tennis Writer