Nick Kyrgios came out of a week in Washington about $400,000 richer, and every penny was honestly earned, which is more than you can say for the personages down the street from where he was working.
Kyrgios labored through heat and rain at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center at 16th and Kennedy Streets with the good humor and fine manners that befit a sportsman and a gentleman (this is redundant) and made all those who paid into the kitty that brought him there feel they got their money’s worth. Seats were steep and the hot dog stands were replaced by fancy chichi dining rooms, but that is the way of our decadent era.
The personages down the street were busy debauching the nation’s currency, sending the message forth that government exists to get you goods and services you did not earn, and generally making a mockery of the institutions designed to ensure the survival of a free society.
Obviously, you can use and abuse the symbolism of sports, in relation to the decay of public life or anything else for that matter. And even within sports, just as within any other activity, you have striking examples of how the same activity can bring out admirable and questionable qualities in people, sometimes the very same ones.
During the Washington Open — in recent years known as the Citi Open due to the branding fees sports use to make money — you could see the best and the worst in the United States Congress, formerly the world showcase of representative democracy.
I have often wondered whether in throwing the people’s money away by the trillions in the name of “nation building” senators and congressmen ever consider that if they did their jobs honestly, prudently, and frugally, they would be giving all the instruction in building their nations — those “lesser breeds without the Law” — than any country can give another, instruction that, instead, is undercut and dashed by handouts.
During the Rock Creek tournament, the Biden administration promised a billion dollars in military aid to Ukraine on top of the astronomical sums already proffered. For what? Presumably to make war on Russia, which attacked Ukraine. This is casus belli by any common-sense view of the situation in Eastern Europe. Why then not say so and declare that a state of war exists and involves us?
Which, in turn, should trigger a solemn motion in the Senate known as a declaration of war. Instead of doing their duty — their constitutional duty — the senators voted in favor of the admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO. In effect, they made a phony moral show of their righteous support for collective security, the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy since 1945, instead of putting themselves on the line and saying, “We are in a fight.”
With all the consequences that this would involve, and which they do not want to discuss. The only thing that can be said to excuse the senators is that they are in a tradition dating from 1941: the last time the Senate took war seriously enough to declare it. Since 1945, over 100,000 Americans have died in conflicts whose goals no president or senator has explained in plain straight talk to the American people: either because they do not care or do not themselves understand their own policies.
This is, you have to admit, deplorable, shameful, and disgusting. And this is irrespective of whether or not you favor NATO enlargement and military intervention in Eastern Europe. If you want to know, David Goldman recently put the case against war in Ukraine quite well, and Pat Buchanan expressed the case for a policy of isolation and caution, in relation to the Taiwan issue, as succinctly and persuasively as Goldman did on his side.
What would you wager that among 100 senators, any read either (short) essay? By way of full disclosure, I disagree with both; but I told myself if I could not answer them, and could not find public leaders who can make the case to back my view, then I say, gentlemen, I am with you on this one. And for historical reference, this was Abraham Lincoln’s position, give or take a few nuances, in standing against President James Polk’s Mexican–American War, as it was U.S. Grant’s (who, duty first, fought in it) and Sam Houston’s in their opposition to Texas secession in 1861.
But — the Washington Open and Nick Kyrgios. This young man, you may know, was described by Roger Federer among many others as the most talented of his cohort when he broke into big-time tennis in his late teens. He is the closest thing to what ball players call a natural, a term I once applied to Jack Sock, with whom as it happens Kyrgios entered the doubles draw at the FitzGerald Center (the formal name for the tennis facilities at Rock Creek). The other one in this class is Frances Tiafoe, a local boy who is having a fantastic season and who was competing, like Kyrgios and Sock, in both the singles and doubles draws.
Kyrgios won the Australian Open doubles with his friend and compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis; they repeated at Atlanta a couple of weeks ago; and he near-consistently reached quarter-, semi-, and finals this season in singles. He was in the final against one of the top three players in the world, Novak Djokovic, at Wimbledon, the Augusta Masters of tennis.
Washington is a 500-level tournament, a pretty big deal, but neither Djokovic nor Rafa Nadal was here (the third man in the dominant trio of the sport, Roger Federer, is out of competition this season with a convalescent knee). But there were plenty of would-be’s and Kyrgios, who won here in 2019, was by no means a shoo-in.
At 27, the Canberra native has had his share of injuries and moral problems. I say moral problems because I think the fashionable terms “emotional issues” and “mental struggles” obfuscate more than explain. Kyrgios has expended much energy and inventiveness in his young manhood insulting other players (Stan Wawrinka, Nadal, and Djokovic, among others), insulting his own country’s sports legends (Neal Fraser); notwithstanding, such Aussie greats as Rod Laver and Margaret Court said he could win at Wimbledon this year “if he kept his head together.” His M.O. has been to dazzle the crowd and make a show and then blame others, notably the umpires and the tournament organizers, for his failures. But he gives credit where it is due to his rivals, and he does not use crass gamesmanship, as do some of them, notably among his own contemporaries.
However, say what you will about freedom of expression and say even more about the shortcomings of officials and institutions in sports, there is a requirement to shut up and play ball, and the choice to do this or not is essentially moral. Tanking, quitting even, may in extremis be right — see The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner — but then you take your cuts. Which, by the way, Kyrgios has done.
Kyrgios has the best serve in contemporary tennis, as he showed in the quarterfinal with Tiafoe. It was the best match of the tournament by far and the only one in which he needed three sets. He faced six match points and saved all of them: one with a dramatic drop shot and several others with aces (he hit 35 of these over the match). He can hit the T, pull the receiver over the alley, put the equivalent of a four-seam fastball on the service line right between his man’s feet, and when someone manages to return these shots, which inevitably they do — these are high-level athletes — he is ready to put it away or set up a winner. No one, as far as I know, got a break point against Nick Kyrgios in the entire tournament. By one count, he faced only 10 break points through the draw and not one was converted.
Still, Tiafoe, who is a phenom in his own right (17 aces in that match and his typical array of dazzling saves), got to the tiebreak twice and managed to win the first. The second went 26 points — Kyrgios finally got ahead with an ace, 13-12, a long, tense baseline rally finally game the second set. It took something out of Tiafoe; he went down quickly in the third, 6-2.
All along, Kyrgios was also winning doubles matches with Sock, and due to the summer thunderstorms that always hit Washington at night in the first week of August after the 98-degree afternoons, they were playing into the wee hours, waiting for dry spells, and at times playing two matches per day. Tiafoe and Alex de Minaur, his talented Aussie partner, forfeited their semifinal, but Kyrgios-Sock went up against French veterans Nicolas Mahut and Édouard Roger-Vasselin right after the quarter against Tiafoe and got the job done. In the doubles final, following his fairly easy singles win over surprise finalist Yoshihito Nishioka, they crushed another pair of veterans, Ivan Dodig and Austin Krajicek. If I err not, it was the first time in this tournament, founded in 1969 by Arthur Ashe and Donald Dell to benefit the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation, that the same man won singles and doubles.
It would have been nice to see some of those solons from downtown at the tournament, taking notes on mental strength and moral fortitude, but they are, it seems, beyond redemption. For our part at The American Spectator, we — but first, we must apologize for the report from the Newport Hall of Fame tournament wherein we erred badly in saying the English, not the Scots, invented golf; apologies to one and all and any Scot who finds himself in Alexandria this summer, we will stand for however many drinks he wants at our hangout on Royal Street — we, I say, wish Nick Kyrgios the best as he makes his way toward the U.S. Open, where he will surely be a favorite to win, and to inspire.