Nick Kyrgios established himself as a star on the ATP Tour in 2014 when, as a 19-year old, he made the Wimbledon quarterfinals at the expense of both Richard Gasquet and Rafael Nadal. The Aussie followed up his performance at the All England Club with Grand Slam success at Melbourne Park in 2015, making the quarters of that tournament as well. However, Kyrgios is still a player who has a long way to go before he can start being looked at as a serious threat to make the final of a major – and that is not just due to problems with immaturity.
Kyrgios went just 36-30 on the ATP Tour in 2015, and his efforts did not include a title, not even at the 250 level. Many might be quick to dismiss the lackluster record as due to immaturity, a perspective that may have limited insight into what is causing Kyrgios’ lack of success. The Aussie, who often seems to pout on court, is well-known for making very off-handed remarks during a match in Montreal against Stan Wawrinka, remarks that pertained to the Swiss player’s girlfriend.
However, immaturity is just one point of view on a developing player and its relationship to winning is not always clear. From a completely different perspective, Kyrgios simply does not have the body-type that you would look at to win majors – something that is physical as opposed to mental.
Looking at all the Grand Slam results so far in this decade, you find the following men’s singles champions (listed with their heights and Grand Slam totals from 2010 to 2015 inclusive):
Roger Federer: 6’1″, 2 titles
Novak Djokovic: 6’1″, 9 titles
Andy Murray: 6’3″, 2 titles
Rafael Nadal: 6’1″, 8 titles
Stan Wawrinka: 6’0″, 2 titles
Marin Cilic: 6’6″, 1 title
When you compile these stats, it becomes pretty clear that a low center of gravity is helpful in tennis to a certain extent. You can’t be so short as to take power out of your game, but being about 6’0″ to 6’1″ is where you want to be. After all, 21 of the 24 majors won since the 2010 Australian Open has gone to players in this very-very limited height range.
Reasons for this phenomenon – I can only speculate on. But it’s my opinion, for starters, that the taller players are more injury prone. Sure, lightning can strike for Cilic as it did in Flushing Meadows, but the stress on the body from winning so many high-level matches lead to significant injuries that took him out of the game entirely for a long stretch shortly afterward.
A similar point could be made about what happened to Juan Martin del Potro, who is also 6’6″ after he won the 2009 US Open. Delpo dumped Federer; Delpo made the ATP World Tour Finals, and then Delpo missed almost a year. It seems that when a 6’6″ giant in tennis wins a Grand Slam, he does not follow it up with another one. Instead, he hits the sidelines with some kind of ailment shortly thereafter.
But even when a taller player is healthy, the Slams are arduous when it comes to expending energy. I think the taller you are, the more fatigue-prone you are in the very late rounds of majors. Taller players are heavier, it takes more energy for them to move their bodies, and they can’t win a war of attrition in the late rounds against the lighter players like Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, and Wawrinka. I think this is because these players are able to conserve energy better throughout the whole tournament while players like Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych, Robin Soderling, John Isner, and Kevin Anderson simply cannot do that.
Kyrgios isn’t exactly a mega-giant as his height is only 6’4″. However, since the start of 2010 there has only been one player that tall or taller that has won a major.
While players of comparable height, like Soderling and Berdych, have made Grand Slam finals since the start of this decade those players still showed more potential than Kyrgios in earlier parts of their careers. Soderling, who is the same height as Kyrgios, won an ATP title (Lyon 2004) just after he turned 20 years old. Berdych, who is 6’5″, won Palermo 2004 before he was 20 and he won the 2005 Paris Masters shortly after he turned 20. Kyrgios’ results are lagging behind the results of a couple of the better players from the last decade that are similar in height.
You can say that Kyrgios, who is now closer to 21 than 20, is just immature and obscure his results with that very abstract variable, but I really don’t think that immaturity is the core problem. Andre Agassi wasn’t the most mature player, but he was still taking down titles as a teenager – a lot of them in fact.
The Aussie finished the 2015 season as the World No. 30, and he might have a future ranked that high – and higher. However, I got the Big Four running circles around this guy for a couple of years still, especially if they meet in best-of-five-set matches. Then I got Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric, and Hyeon Chung keeping Kyrgios out of the Grand Slam championships for as long as the Aussie is trying to win them.
Kyrgios should not be considered an heir-apparent to the World No. 1 ranking, nor should he be considered a threat to win majors in his career. He simply is not the body type that the tour favors in general. On top of that, the drama he seems to cause himself and his on-court pouting only adds to the challenges he will face.
Kyrgios is different than a lot of players on tour, because of his style and attitude. But, while his fans might wish, hope, and dream, they shouldn’t expect much out the Aussie in the upcoming 2016 season.