Hypersensitivity has been one of the most striking aspects of Nick Kyrgios’ struggles on the pitch over the past two weeks.
Linesman calls and ages, a moving ball boy, a coughing spectator, a popping cork, a flickering scoreboard – all seemed to drive the man catapulted into Sunday’s Wimbledon final to the fringes of madness.
John Lloyd suggested over the weekend that John McEnroe’s ride “wasn’t even on the same planet”, although McEnroe, the extraordinary new documentary film about the original feral child of the courts which will be released next week, suggests otherwise.
Nick Kyrgios will play in his first-ever Grand Slam final at Wimbledon after Rafa Nadal withdraws
The Australian’s hypersensitivity has seen comparisons to legend John McEnroe
The fact that McEnroe is reliving his 1984 French Open final against Ivan Lendl in 32C heat is a graphic reminder that he has walked the path that Kyrgios is now following.
“Every time I have a nightmare, I come back to this game,” McEnroe said. “I’m hypersensitive to everything.” Even a spectator sipping a soda through a straw.
McEnroe was world No. 1, hadn’t lost that year, but his face is a picture of grief after he fell on clay at one point. ‘I’m getting up. I look back. I see myself. I have nothing. I felt like I was doomed. My anxiety hurt me.
McEnroe, like Kyrgios, was particularly prone to burning at Wimbledon due to the perceived snobbery of what he saw as the British establishment.
The parallels are unmistakable. He had as much fun snubbing the winners’ ball in 1981 as Kyrgios left center court in a partially red outfit on Monday.
His conduct is then perceived as symptomatic of a new moral crisis. The politicians weighed in with the same emphasis as the chair umpires at Wimbledon who censored McEnroe in their cut, estuarine English.
The world No.40 has earned a reputation for providing mid-game antics in his matches
A few Australian websites wrote acid articles about the British press questioning Kyrgios last week, even though it had nothing to do with the British and American journalists who clashed in the press room over McEnroe, in 1981 “Don’t point your finger at me,” yells an American. The film is full of jewels like that.
Kyrgios went to excesses McEnroe never reached, threatening referees with what he would say about them at press conferences. Yet the violence with which McEnroe crushes the racquets is far greater.
McEnroe was tennis’ original wild child and admits he was ‘hypersensitive to everything’
The amusing way his famous 1981 Wimbledon semi-final against Tim Gullikson is remembered – “you can’t be serious” and “the chalk flew” (which it was) – obscures the grim reality and noxious on this hot July day.
The film’s excellence is in the way it lets McEnroe speak for himself as he wanders his old New York neighborhood in the dark. It is a representation of the psychological disintegration that tennis, with the long hours of loneliness and pressure, causes. It’s hard to avoid the feeling that he hated him.
“I have been the No. 1 player for four years. I am the greatest player who has ever played. So why don’t I feel so amazing? he asks. “I just don’t think it was a very happy existence.”
It’s a measure of the changing times that Wimbledon spectators booed him, while many now applaud Kyrgios through the abuse he inflicts. But McEnroe had something Kyrgios lacked: friendships between some of his rivals that kept him on the right side of reason.
First Vitas Gerulaitis, with whom he played and partied a lot. And then, the most unlikely, Bjorn Borg, who at the age of 26 left the court when McEnroe beat him in the final of the 1981 US Open. He did not wait for the ceremony of the victory and never played a Grand Slam again.
“Tennis is a very solitary sport,” Borg told the filmmakers. “It always has been and it always will be. When you walk on this ground, it’s just you. John and I have connected.
That kind of relationship doesn’t exist in the environment that elite sport has become. McEnroe also left abruptly. After winning a fourth US Open in 1984, he took a sabbatical and never won another Grand Slam. He was devastated by the death of Gerulaitis, aged 40, in 1994.
The 63-year-old was present at the recent Wimbledon center court centenary celebrations
Kyrgios will face Novak Djokovic or Britain’s Cameron Norrie in the Wimbledon final
He’s older, wiser, extremely articulate, and the individual that the deeply complicated Kyrgios, who also seems to possess so little residual joy, would enjoy substantial time with.
McEnroe, who has worked with the Australian as captain of the World Team which takes on Europe in the Laver Cup, seems to feel a lack of effort, as well as mental complexity, is a problem.
“Between his ears – that’s what’s missing,” he said of Kyrgios earlier this year. “I would say tennis-wise he’s the most talented player I’ve seen in the last 10 years. But you have to bring what it takes to compete day to day.
History tells us that putting on an impressive performance in the final, whether it’s Novak Djokovic or Cameron Norrie he meets there, could drastically change perceptions of Kyrgios. McEnroe lost dramatically to Borg in the epic five-set final of 1980, although he emerged victorious in deeper ways.
“John has become a different person in the eyes of the media,” says Borg. “They respected him so much more. He deserved it.
McEnroe hits theaters Friday, July 15
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