When Kyrgios And Tomic Grow Up, They Want To Be This Gutsy Bloke
Last night at the Australian Open, Alex de Minaur and John Millman showed something which has been missing in Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic for a while now: fight.
De Minaur beat Swiss player Henri Laaksonen in a five set thriller, while Millman came out on the wrong side of a five set stoush with Spaniard Roberto Bautista, but oh, what a ride.
It’s a cliché to call someone an Aussie battler, but these guys actually battle. And the battle is not just with a racquet and a ball, but inside their head.
Listen to what de Minaur had to say after a match which he dominated early, and which then seemed to be slipping away from him before he recovered:
"I mentally reset for the last set and tried not to get down on myself and be positive and fight every ball," de Minaur said.
Read it again. He “mentally reset”. He “tried not to get down on himself”. He tried to be “positive” and “fight”. Every single ball.
That’s what’s been missing from the two highest-profile men in Australian tennis for a while now. When something goes against Tomic or Kyrgios, they sook, they argue, they mentally clock off.
De Minaur went into this tournament ranked 29 in the world, 22 spots higher than Kyrgios. The 19-year-old Spanish-based Sydneysider is the second youngest man in the world top 100. He’s also one of the nicest.
But "nice" doesn’t make for exciting headlines, as US tennis commentator Brett Haber pointed out this week on cable network Tennis Channel.
“There’s nothing outside his tennis that calls for attention,” Haber said of de Minaur.
“He doesn’t have an outrageous look, he doesn’t say outrageous things at the press conference, he’s not confrontational and his social media isn’t particularly noteworthy.”
This is an accurate synopsis. But it is also far from damning.
After his first round win this week in Melbourne, de Minaur said he was “stoked” and “this is why you put in the hard yards in the pre-season” and a bunch of other unremarkable stuff of the sort almost every Aussie sportsman has said in press conferences a million times before.
As the American commentator duly noted, he is anything but outrageous.
But as mentioned, Alex de Minaur has fight. And that’s what Australian fans love to see -- especially right now, having been let down by Kyrgios and Tomic so often
John Millman is another man with ticker. He didn’t win last night but the way the 29-year-old Queenslander saved four match points after being down 6-3 in the fourth-set tie-breaker… wow. It was the moment of the tournament so far.
Millman said something really interesting in a column he wrote in January last year. He wrote about how the media loved to call him an “Aussie battler” and how it irked him at first.
“But I’ve now actually started to embrace the term battler when I’m coming on the court,” he wrote.
“I’ve come to respect that a lot more, because I think it means that I’ve handled adversity and I’ve come out the other side of it.”
Australians respect battlers too. Especially when the battles they fight are on court.
Right now, Bernard Tomic’s main battles seem to be with Lleyton Hewitt and Tennis Australia and with reality itself, while Nick Kyrgios’ main battle is with his chosen career of tennis, and whether he really wants to pursue it.
For the record, Kyrgios wrote a column just this week praising the fight in his good mate Andy Murray. The guy understands the sporting beauty of someone who digs in and doesn’t go down easily.
Unfortunately, he’s talking the talk but not walking the walk.
Kyrgios’ match against Milos Raonic on Tuesday night was disappointing. It wasn’t terrible and there were no major meltdowns -- give or take a quadruple F-bomb in response to medical treatment.
But it was the showing of a bloke who’s just not quite there right now either mentally or with his tennis game, for one reason or another.
Alex de Minaur was 100 percent there last night. And when he plays the legendary Rafael Nadal on Friday night, you know he’ll give his all against the man who dispensed with him in three quick sets in their first encounter at Wimbledon last year.
That’s all any tennis fan wants to see.