PARIS — Nick Kyrgios’ talent is undeniable. So is his temperament.
Docked a point for smashing rackets, the 18th-seeded Kyrgios went from a set and a break up in the French Open’s second round to a swift loss, ceding 16 of the last 19 games while being beaten 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 on Thursday by Kevin Anderson.
As men’s tennis searches for the face of its next generation, perhaps someone who one day will fill a void left by folks such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, there are those who believe Kyrgios, 22, has the flashy game and attention-attracting personality to fit the bill.
Still, it takes on-court success to lead a sport, and Kyrgios’ uneven attitude during matches can derail him at a moment’s notice. That happened Thursday, and it was noticed by Anderson — a 31-year-old South African ranked 56th and only once a quarterfinalist in 31 appearances at Grand Slam tournaments.
“While he was sort of getting into his own head and struggling with some (of) his own battles,” Anderson said, “I didn’t give him a way to get back in the match.”
Other seeded players lost on Day 5 of the clay-court major, when No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 3 Stan Wawrinka moved into the third round.
Those exiting included No. 12 Madison Keys — bothered by her surgically repaired left wrist, the American was eliminated by 290th-ranked qualifier Petra Martic of Croatia 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 — No. 20 Barbora Strycova and No. 29 Ana Konjuh among the women, and 2010 Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych and 2013 French Open runner-up David Ferrer among the men.
None, though, departed quite as destructively as Kyrgios, who has proven capable of beating stars such as Federer and Nadal, but also been prone to fits of pique, not to mention losses before the fourth round at six of the past seven Grand Slam tournaments.
After taking the opening set and leading 4-2 in the second Thursday, Kyrgios fell apart.
Down 5-4 and serving, he smacked a 136 mph (219 kph) ace — one of his many skills — to get within a point of 5-all. But then a poor drop shot hit his side of the net tape. Next came a double-fault that gave Anderson a set point and prompted Kyrgios to spike his racket, which got mangled and bounced so far it landed at the feet of a line judge behind the baseline.
That drew a warning from the chair umpire for racket abuse. But Kyrgios was hardly done. After gifting Anderson the set with a second consecutive double-fault, Kyrgios trudged to the sideline, head bowed, sat down and proceeded to whack his racket six times against a metal box. The loud reverberations caused Anderson to turn to his right and check out what was going on — and drew a point penalty, assessed at the beginning of the third set.
“I don’t know if that’s the best role model you want,” Kyrgios acknowledged with a smile, after being told by a reporter that a boy sitting in the front row at Court 3 was following this display from close-up. “But, I mean, I’m not trying to show anybody, really, my frustration. I just do it for myself.
“I’ve been doing it my whole career, really. I think it’s just a habit now.”
As for getting in his own way during the course of a match, well, that has become something of a habit, too.
And opponents are aware.
Here was the way Anderson described his own mindset as they moved into the third set: “I really felt if I could stay on top of him early on, there was a chance that maybe he would give me a couple games here and there.”
Kyrgios’ explanation for his collapse was that he hadn’t been able to have the proper practice or preparation heading into Roland Garros, in part because he was troubled by injury issues. He hit only four aces over the last two sets after producing 12 over the first two, but dismissed the idea that he was dealing with something physical.
“The surprising thing is, I was in a winning position today,” Kyrgios said, “and I still could have won.”
What really matters, of course, is that he did not.