Tennis’ thoroughgoing paradox, the immensely talented but sporadically engaged Nick Kyrgios, again was at the center of uncommon U.S. Open doings Thursday. In the process of a whiplash second-round victory over Frenchman Pierre-Hughes Herbert, Kyrgios received a visit from match umpire Mohamed Lahyani during a changeover, when Lahyani either inquired about Kyrgios’ physical condition or informed Kyrgios to shape up. Or both.
Kyrgios was down, 4-6, 0-3 when Lahyani “left his chair to check on the condition” of Kyrgios, according to a statement from tournament referee Brian Earley, though Lahyani also appeared to confront Kyrgios about putting out more effort.
According to Kyrgios, in fact, “the umpire was, like, ‘Nick, you can’t be doing this. It’s a bad look.’ ”
Kyrgios, the Open’s No. 30 seed from Australia, was offended by suggestions that Lahyani had helped right his ship against the 75th-ranked Herbert. From 0-3, Kyrgios still was down 2-5 before he turned the match decidedly in his favor and won, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-0. Almost immediately, there were internet headlines charging that Lahyani had “coached” Kyrgios and “given him a pep talk.”
Herbert said he wasn’t certain but thought Lahyani had said “he wanted to help” Kyrgios, and that Lahyani “cares for the show” and might have reacted to seeing fans leaving the court because of Kyrgios’ inattentive play through a set and a half.
“Mohamed is an amazing umpire,” Herbert said. “But I for sure will have a discussion with him. I think he over-passed his job.”
Kyrgios insisted Lahyani had not tried to encourage him and that the chat “had no effect at all. It didn’t help at all.” He added, sarcastically, that Lahyani “said he liked me. I’m not sure that was encouragement. He just said, ‘That’s not a good look.’ ”
According to the referee’s statement, the unusual sight of an umpire leaving his chair to speak with a player was to assure he could communicate with Kyrgios “because of the noise level in the stadium” and that Lahyani was “concerned that Kyrgios might need medical attention.”
Kyrgios said he merely requested salt tablets, which a trainer brought at the next changeover. But the statement did acknowledge that Lahyani “also informed Krygios that if his seeming lack of interest in the match continued, that as the chair umpire, he would need to take action.”
In play, of course, was the history of the 23-year-old Krygios, who twice has advanced to major-tournament quarterfinals but recently admitted tanking a match at the Open tune-up in Cincinnati and that, during a tournament in Shanghai, the chair umpire “did the exact same thing” as Lahyani.
A year ago, after a first-round loss at the Open, Krygios described himself as “not dedicated to the game at all. There are players out there that want to get better, that strive to get better every day, the one-percenters. I’m not that guy.”
After Thursday’s match, Krygios promised he would be fully involved for his next match, on Saturday against five-time Open champ Roger Federer, who cruised past 56th-ranked Frenchman Benoit Paire in straight sets Thursday.
But Herbert reminded that, “like everybody, I think Nick could be an amazing player. But we don’t have that many players that play professionally that are having many problems like Nick. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”