On Monday night, a jaded yet proud figure shuffled off Arthur Ashe Stadium after an unexpected retirement against Rafael Nadal.
As the 36-year-old wandered away from the final grand slam match of his career, he had to be held back by interviewer Brad Gilbert. ‘BG’ thought that this unassuming Spanish warrior might want to give the New York crowd some last words.
“This is my last grand slam of my career” he said to cheers from the stands. “I’m sorry because, I’m so sorry because I can’t finish the match but…well anyway…thanks a lot. Thank you very much and I will miss you a lot.”
And with that, David Ferrer was gone.
The Valencian veteran will hang on for a few clay events next year but his major days are finished. Once ranked no.3 in the world, he leaves the sport with 726 match wins, 27 titles and $31 million in prize money. All of it was earned without too much fuss or attention over 18 years as a pro.
Nick Kyrgios has a slightly different approach.
While the Spaniard maintains a profile so low that many wouldn’t recognise him on the street, the Australian devours the spotlight through his brash attitude, bright clothes, social media feuds and extraordinary talent.
What Ferrer might have done for Kyrgios’s first or even second serve over the years? How he could have used Nick’s forehand or ability to produce shotmaking magic at will.
On the other side, imagine if the 23-year-old had some of Ferrer’s mental toughness or durability (Monday night was the first grand slam retirement for the Spaniard in 208 matches).
Kyrgios often struggles to close matches due to physical ailments or mental lapses. It was the latter that caused an umpire to intervene in such an astonishing manner on Thursday.
In his second round match with Pierre Hugues-Herbert, Kyrgios dug himself a large hole and seemed to have had enough.
Serving at 4-5 down in the first set, three double faults from the Australian helped Herbert clinch the opener. Nick’s funk continued in the second and he found himself at 0-3 and a galaxy away from a third round showdown with Roger Federer.
Enter umpire Mohamed Lahyani.
Noticing a shambles emerging on Court 17, Lahyani descended from his chair and decided to give Kyrgios something like a ‘pep talk’. In a world where everything seems to be recorded, the one thing that didn’t get a clear airing was their chat. A line that could be made out though was the umpire saying “I want to help you…You know. I want to help you.”
In black and white text, that statement comes across poorly and people have questioned Lahyani’s impartiality in the moment. However, the Swedish official most likely had a chat with Kyrgios to avoid the use of a particular grand slam penalty – the ‘best efforts’ clause.
At majors, the International Tennis Federation decrees that “a player shall use his best efforts to win a match” and “violation of this…shall subject a player to a fine of up to $20,000 for each violation”. Given the umpire’s known cordiality with players, it’s reasonable to suggest that this rule was what he had in mind when he decided to pull the Jurgen Klopp impersonation.
The situation got even more ridiculous when Kyrgios asked to see a trainer but received no treatment when the medic arrived. The Aussie also found time to reply to a heckle of “just leave, we want Genie [Bouchard]” with “Well, you’ll never have her!”
Maybe the most surreal thing of all was the Canberran’s comeback.
Remarkable scene, this. Nick Kyrgios receiving a mid-match pep talk from the *umpire* for another conspicuous lack of effort pic.twitter.com/vI1ooppYin
— Oliver Brown (@oliverbrown_tel) August 30, 2018
After his chat with Lahyani, Kyrgios recovered and nabbed the second set by tie-break. He then won 12 of the next 15 games to end poor Pierre’s tournament and book a date on Ashe with Mr. Federer.
Lahyani’s intervention has dominated the coverage since with the USTA forced to issue a statement defending the umpire’s actions amid hostile reactions from a bamboozled tennis fraternity.
In trying to protect the integrity of the tournament, it looks as if Mohamed took the wrong action for the right reason.
He has become just another footnote in the chronicles of Kyrgios.
The 23-year-old moves on to face Federer and will be a serious obstacle for the Swiss. Kyrgios has already beaten Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Federer in his unique career.
That’s another difference between Kyrgios and Ferrer: The relentless Spaniard couldn’t topple the 20-time major winner in 17 meetings while Nick did it in his first.
And that’s the nub with this most mercurial of talents.
Ferrer had an outstanding career without gifts possessed by the Australian. Imagine if Nick stayed healthy, dumped the social media for a year, and set himself the goal of being his absolute best?
I think we’d all like to see what that Nick Kyrgios looks like.