Earlier this week, with the help of Mike Pielluci, an article I wrote on Nick Kyrgios appeared at The Classical. His summer malaise was the subject, mostly, but at the heart of my interest in the supposed future of Australian tennis was the question of youthfulness set adrift. After all, if summer is a young season, the conflicts that wrestle within its rugged months are caught between serious play and an active form of resting. I watch Kyrgios and he is either stretched taut on a rack or cocooned in the fetal position. And, in turn, I can never decide whether to root for or against him. Mostly, though, I watch him rushing and shuffling as if to do nothing and I think how the athletic body and the young mind are bound together in a counterproductive push and pull. If I had known then, what I know now.
Consider the career of Kyrgios’ fellow Australian, Lleyotn Hewitt. A night after witnessing the young Kyrgios lose in the first round of the US Open against Andy Murray in frustrating fashion, a soon to be retired Hewitt lost a heartbreaking match of his own to Bernard Tomic (also Australian). However, while Kyrgios’ late match flailing only feigned intent, Hewitt’s heroics embodied mortal passions, and fears. Kyrgios reach for a red balloon. Hewitt’s limbs turned red with autumn blood.
After dropping the first two sets, Hewitt mounted a furious comeback to force a fifth set. While he ultimately failed to win the match, he displayed the fierce intensity that had made him the tournament’s champion in 2001. This inspiring loss and his failed attempt to mentor Kyrgios were Hewitt’s US Open swan song. Like something grand and broken as the ancient English to be found in Beowulf. And, while he won Wimbledon in 2002, Hewitt has not won a tournament since 2005. After all, the future was beset by an imperfect storm of injuries, Roger Federer, and the awakening of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. For all his relentless hustle and skill with a racquet, perhaps Hewitt’s greatest talent was not to hesitate when he had all the time in the world.