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Two summers ago, Nick Kyrgios made his first appearance at the Citi Open tennis tournament in D.C. It proved to be a disastrous stay. He showed little interest in playing his match against the lower-ranked American Tennys Sandgren. He audibly berated himself and gave up during points. In the end, he retired with a shoulder injury midway through the second set, as fans in the main stadium booed him off the court.
A vastly different Kyrgios showed up this past week at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center for the Citi Open (which is managed by City Paper owner Mark Ein). He admitted to the press he had growing up to do and wanted to become “a better person.” He appeared focused and disciplined—words that have rarely been associated with the 24-year-old Australian known for his polarizing, and occasionally combative, personality.
The attitude change resulted in one of Kyrgios’ biggest titles of his career. He defeated Russian Daniil Medvedev, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-4), on Sunday evening in front of a loud and appreciative crowd to win the sixth ATP Tour title of his career.
“I think two years ago I lost to Tennys Sandgren. I think I pulled out maybe? I’m not even sure. And I didn’t give the people a good show,” Kyrgios said in his post-match press conference. “I was very disrespectful. And two years on, I come here and I put in a [week’s] performance. You know, I came here for five, six days and competed every day and left it all out there. And to walk away as a champion is pretty special. This is probably my most memorable title, honestly, so far. I mean … it’s night and day from two years ago for sure.”
From the first day of the tournament, fans got to witness the fun, more easy-going side of Kyrgios. Coming straight from his appearance with the Ein-owned Washington Kastles of World TeamTennis, he engaged with fans throughout the week.
After a practice session early in the tournament, he walked off the court to a sea of fans seeking autographs and selfies before being interrupted by Andy Murray walking toward the practice courts. “See, he’s not nice at all,” Kyrgios joked.
He also developed a routine of playing pingpong with kids in the players’ lounge before going on court. During matches, in clips that received attention on Twitter, Kyrgios would ask a fan where to serve on match point, something he did again on Sunday against Medvedev.
Fans shouted, “We love you Nick!” after nearly all of his wins.
“I think everybody could see it,” Medevedev said of Kyrgios’ improved demeanor this week. “Just look at him on the TV. He was determined and it seemed like he wants to win. And that’s what we don’t see all the time, and that’s why he played good this week.“
Kyrgios has always done things his own way. He has said that he enjoys playing basketball more than tennis, and sometimes trolls his fellow players online. But his flippant attitude has taken him to low places in the sport and he spoke reflectively Sunday about his “unhealthy habits” and the need to “change a lot of things.”
“I haven’t played many matches this last couple months,” Kyrgios said. “Especially just looking back on some of the places I’ve been the last six months, it’s crazy to think how much I’ve turned it around. And I’ve just been working really hard, on and off the court, to try and be better as a person and as a tennis player. And as I said, I wasn’t exaggerating. This has been one of the best weeks of my life, not just on the court but in general. I feel like I’ve made major strides. And I’m just going to take it one day at a time and hopefully I can continue on this new path.“
“I just felt like—actually like a traditional tennis player this week,” he added.
As one of the most popular tennis players in the world, Kyrgios knows that he has a platform to inspire others. After beating top-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semifinals, he talked about his impact on those who look up to him.
“Growing up, I mean, I was a very overweight kid. Got told by coaches, teachers that I wasn’t going to be very good at what I chose to do, which was tennis, and I think people can just relate to people telling you you can’t do anything, and I feel like I’m proving a lot of people wrong,” he said. “I’ve beaten every single one of the best tennis players in the world doing it my way, and I’m never going to stop doing that, and I think people can draw inspiration from that. I think you don’t listen to anyone, you just back yourself and believe in yourself, and that’s all that matters.“
Christos Kyrgios sat in the press conference Sunday and watched as his younger brother talked about being “super proud” of his week. Christos arrived in D.C. from the Bahamas, where he lives, at around 3 p.m. on Sunday, just two hours before his brother’s match began, to lend support.
He can’t pinpoint what’s led to this growth in maturity, but notices that his younger brother looks happy. That hasn’t always been the case.
“It’s just a completely different energy from him,” Christos said. “He’s not just wanting to get off the court, whether he wins or loses, and get off. It looks like he actually was having a good time out there and competing. It was awesome to see.”