WASHINGTON — Nick Kyrgios' last name is on a blue awning above the lower bowl of the Citi Open's main stadium to commemorate his 2019 title at the hard-court tournament. On Tuesday night, as the reigning champion at an event canceled last year because of the pandemic, Kyrgios bowed out after two flat sets over 77 minutes.
Kyrgios offered up the occasional crowd-pleaser — an early underhand serve, for example — but otherwise did not look anything like the guy who was so good and so engaged at the U.S. Open tuneup two years ago, losing 6-4, 6-4 to Mackenzie McDonald in the first round.
"I don't know what it is. I don't know what to say. I don't know how to feel. I just don't feel as if I'm in the moment as I used to be, I guess," Kyrgios said. "I feel like I actually enjoyed my tennis more when it was so up and down. Like you see me today — like, I'm losing and I'm barely getting angry. I actually miss the days when I was losing and I was carrying on and I was getting fined and I was throwing my rackets."
That way of behaving, Kyrgios said, meant he cared a lot about the outcome. And now?
"Now I lose and I'm actually happy for the other guy," he said. "Back then, I couldn't stand the other guy."
There wasn't much of Kyrgios' customary animation at all, even under the lights and with a mostly full arena in which spectators offered plenty of shouts of "Come on, Nick!"
"He's honestly really good for our sport and he deserves all the support that he has," McDonald said.
"He can play lights out. He can get the fans on his side. It's never easy playing a guy like that, especially a night match," the 107th-ranked McDonald said. "I'm happy with just how I controlled what I could control."
Kyrgios wasted little time before points, often tossing the ball in the air with 19 or 20 seconds still on the 25-second serve clock, or during them, going for quick-strike shots early in exchanges and often missing the mark.
In a word, Kyrgios was blah. When it ended, he plopped himself down on his sideline seat and shook his head.
He has been ranked as high as 13th and is currently 77th. This was only his fourth tournament of the season; the Australian's record fell to 7-5.
"Ultimately, like, I know I can't be too hard on myself. I haven't played a lot of matches or any of that type of stuff. … I played pretty average. My body feels pretty average," Kyrgios said. "But he played well. He made enough returns. He played the big points well. He should be proud."
Two years ago in Washington, Kyrgios was both entertaining — chatting with fans between points to ask where he should direct his booming serves — and effective, beating a couple of guys who have reached Grand Slam finals in 2021, Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semifinals and Daniil Medvedev in the final.
McDonald, a 26-year-old Californian who played college tennis at UCLA, saved all five break points he faced Tuesday, including a pair while serving out the victory.
"I was lucky I came up with some good shots on those," McDonald said.
He'll next face No. 13 seed Benoit Paire.
Two younger Americans won earlier: Sebastian Korda, who is less than a month past his 21st birthday; Brandon Nakashima, who turned 20 on Tuesday.
The 12th-seeded Korda moved into the third round by beating Vasek Pospisil of Canada 7-5, 6-4. Wild-card entry Nakashima, the runner-up in his past two ATP appearances, defeated Alexei Popyrin of Australia 6-3, 6-3 in a first-round match.
Nakashima made it to the championship matches at Los Cabos — losing to Cameron Norrie last month — and Atlanta — losing to John Isner on Sunday — to become the youngest U.S. man to reach multiple tour finals since Andy Roddick made it to seven as a teenager from 2001-02.
Roddick would go on to reach No. 1 in the rankings and win the 2003 U.S. Open, the last Grand Slam title for an American man.