In advance of his first round match at the U.S. Open, Andy Murray was calling for patience, but not for himself.
He was talking about his opponent in the Tuesday opener, the talented and testy young Australian Nick Kyrgios. The 20-year-old has gotten himself into some very public spots of bother this season.
Kyrgios is playing under a suspended sentence from the men's governing body, the ATP. The ATP has fined him $25,000 and ordered a 28-day suspension for Kyrgios for lewd remarks he uttered about Stan Wawrinka's girlfriend during their match in Montreal Aug. 12. Kyrgios remains eligible to play in the Open and can avoid the penalties if he exhibits professional behavior for the next six months.
At Wimbledon in June, Kyrgios argued with umpires, smashed rackets was accused of tanking a game in his fourth-round match against Richard Gasquet, which he lost. He was subsequently fined $10,000. His Wimbledon behavior brings to mind some behavioral characteristics of the young John McEnroe.
While in no way condoning Kyrgios' behavior, Murray cited his age and the nature of sports world's bright spotlight.
"He's a young guy and he's made mistakes, and everyone here when they were 19-20 would have done some bad things and made some mistakes," said Murray Saturday at the National Tennis Center where he is preparing for the Open which starts tomorrow. "It's unfortunate that it happens in front of millions of people. I just think it's wrong a lot of the things he's done, but I also think he's still a young guy and people mature and grow up at different rates. Not everyone is the same. He'll learn. I don't think he's a bad person at all." Thus, Murray's call for patience.
"He's an unbelievably talented guy with a lot of potential. He's going to be around the top of the game for a while," said Murray, the 2012 Open champion. "I just think a little bit of patience is important when it comes to Nick because he's a young guy and it's not easy growing up in the spotlight."
Kyrgios, who sported a brightly dyed, multicolored Mohawk haircut at times this season, has shown up at Flushing Meadows with a totally black "do." He apologized to Wawrinka on his Facebook page and has repeatedly said the episode is behind him.
His task at hand here is to beat Murray, who has won all three matches the two have played. Kyrgios replied tersely on his way into the locker room Saturday as to what he has to do to solve Murray. "It's a tough match," he said. "I need to not lose; he's beaten me three times."
Two seasons ago, Murray was struggling with back problems that eventually required surgery. He had won Wimbledon that summer, but his career could have been in jeopardy. Instead, he recovered his health and his form and is the No. 3 seed at the U.S. Open with four victories this year.
"I had an operation because I was in pain," Murray said. "I feel healthier, I feel calmer, I feel more relaxed. I don't think any player would say going through back surgery in the peak years of their career was particularly beneficial, to be honest. I've worked extremely hard to get back to where I am."
He'll be at the Open this year without his coach, Amelie Mauresmo, who is expecting a baby soon. He's brought Jonas Bjorkman on board to fill in while she is gone. He says he has prepared well coming in to the Open, having won on hard court over Novak Djokovic in Montreal earlier this month and losing in the semifinals at Cincinnati to Roger Federer. Murray is confident, though a tad cautious, about playing Kyrgios again.
"He's quite an unpredictable player, and you expect that," Murray said. "I've played well against him . . . He's a top player who just missed out on a seeding here. I'm sure he will be one of the top players at this event for the next few years."
It takes a No. 32 world ranking to achieve a seed at the U.S. Open. Kyrgios is No. 37. With this first-round match against Murray, he will have to exchange antics for magic for that number to improve.