Nick Kyrgios’ astounding reinvention seems to boil down to three key factors.
A newfound dedication to improvement.
New sources of motivation.
And breaking through psychological barriers.
The success he has derived from addressing these three pillars was again on display at the US Open, as the Australian star overwhelmed world No.1 and defending champion Daniil Medvedev.
“I just thought I played the right way. I returned unbelievable today. Just thought the third and fourth set were just so free,” Kyrgios said of the 7-6(11) 3-6 6-3 6-2 victory, which improved his record against Medvedev to 4-1.
“I was just having a lot of fun, embracing every moment out on Ashe today. Really proud of that.”
Kyrgios had never previously produced his best tennis in New York; in eight visits he had never been beyond the third round, feeling unsettled and distracted in the bustling city that hosts the year’s final Grand Slam event.
He had never before won a match at Arthur Ashe Stadium until this year, when he beat doubles partner Thanasi Kokkinakis in the first round before his sublime performance to defeat Medvedev.
“I feel like I just haven't shown Flushing Meadows what I'm about really,” Kyrgios said.
“There's a lot of celebrities here, a lot of important people here watching. I wanted to get on that court and show them I am able to put my head down and play and win these big matches.
“For the tennis world I think it's important as well. People were really starting to doubt my ability to pull out matches like this at majors… It hasn't been easy dealing with all the criticism.
“I'm just super proud of the performance because there was really a time where I didn't think I was capable of producing and doing this any more.”
So, how exactly has he done it?
We refer back to those three aforementioned pillars.
It was in early 2022 when Kyrgios, ranked outside the top 100, began to re-emerge from the tennis wilderness.
It might sound simplistic, but he believes his tennis got better.
“I definitely think that I've improved some of my weaknesses,” said Kyrgios, who also cited increased discipline, more effective practice sessions and a greater emphasis on sleep as reasons behind his upswing.
“I really analysed what I had to get better at at the start of the year, and I've worked on it really hard.
“Whether I'm not that player that was once 13 in the world, I think I am. I think I'm better than that.”
Kyrgios attained that peak ranking of world No.13 almost six years ago.
But these days, different motivational forces drive him, compared with when his career was a messy mixture of “great results, shocking results, try(ing) really hard, then tanking”.
“I just feel like I'm playing for a lot more than myself,” said Kyrgios, who is projected to return to the top 20 and reclaim the Australian No.1 ranking.
“I've been away from home now for four months. My whole team has. We don't get to see our family like other tennis players do the majority of time.
“I'm trying to make it worthwhile, trying to make it a memorable ride for all of us. Hopefully we can get it done, go back home and really celebrate.”
It has already been a worthwhile trip, for since Roland Garros, Kyrgios has won more matches than anyone on the men’s tour.
The biggest highlight came in July when, seemingly out of nowhere, at age 27, Kyrgios advanced to his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon.
He had never previously passed the quarterfinal stage at a major, and the last time he had even gotten that far was Australian Open 2015 – seven-and-a-half years earlier.
Back then, Kyrgios was still a teenager, and, by his own admission, had no idea how to deal with his success, and the rapidly growing profile that accompanied it.
“I feel like I just mentally struggled so hard for like the first six, seven years of my career… I beat myself up way too hard. It was unhealthy,” he recalled.
“I look back, it was just all a learning process to now because I've matured so much.
“I feel like I kind of embrace it all. When I'm playing bad I embrace it; when I'm playing good I embrace it. But I stay the same, where before I used to just ride the highs and lows way too much and I was exhausted.
“I felt like when I was really struggling mentally, I was very selfish. Then I looked at the people closest to me and how much I was letting them down, and I didn't want to do that any more.
“Then I just tried to just look at my career. I was like, I feel like I've got so much left to give to the sport. That's it. I just trained hard. I just put my head down, Look, let's get in shape, better shape, first of all. Let's see how it goes.
“I feel like I'm making people proud now. I feel like there's not as much negative things being said about me. I just wanted to turn the narrative around.”
After reaching the Wimbledon final, there was no danger of seven more years elapsing before another great Grand Slam run.
Just two months later, he is progressing far again, this time in New York.
Karen Khachanov stands between him and a place in the semifinals, the next point in sight for this improved, highly-motivated and mentally-rewired version of Kyrgios.
“I know the process now of what it takes to get to a final of a Grand Slam. Not to win it yet, but to get to the final. I know the process. You can't avoid it,” he said.
“I always wanted to win. I always felt like if I did the right things and played the right way, I could go deep.”