Nick Kyrgios is always one of the biggest draw cards at any Grand Slam, but especially the Australian Open, and the pressure on him to succeed at his home Slam is immense.
Having never progressed past the fourth round at Melbourne Park, the expectations from fans every year are sky-high, and coming off the back of a valiant runner-up finish at Wimbledon last year, this year was no different.
The 27-year-old had flagged early that he was battling an ankle injury heading into the Australian season, withdrawing from the United Cup in Sydney due to injury earlier in the year.
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He had an operation to drain a meniscal cyst caused by a tear to his left meniscus on Monday, posting a photo of the extracted fluid on Instagram.
The 19th seed called his decision “brutal”, telling a press conference that he was “devastated”.
“This is my home tournament, and obviously winning the tournament in doubles (last year) and playing the best tennis of my life,” he said.
His withdrawal from the tournament is a blow to tournament rights holders and promoters Channel Nine.
Kyrgios played nine-time Open champion Novak Djokovic in an exhibition match for charity on the Friday eve of the tournament.
He was also seen drinking beer on Friday evening ahead of his exhibition match later that night.
His physiotherapist, Will Maher, explained that Kyrgios was carrying the tear leading into the year, and that he “used the charity event against Novak to see if he could compete at the highest level.:
“It was worth persevering to see if he can get back on court,” he said.
While Kyrgios’ lead-up to the Open was significantly interrupted by injury, tennis greats have questioned whether or not his preparation was as good as it could have been.
Australian great and commentator Todd Woodbridge criticised his management of the injury itself.
“Given what we now know about the issues that are going on with the knee, it would have been tough to get through, on hard court, six or seven matches,” Woodbridge said.
“Ultimately, you have to look at the preparation before; was that exactly right for what he needed?”
Woodbridge said Kyrgios should look to his preparation for Wimbledon, where he surged to book a place in the final against Novak Djokovic.
“I would hope he has a look at what he did at Wimbledon last year when his preparation was great.”
“The lead-up from a physical point of view, to then getting into the lead-in tournaments, to playing enough matches to be able to walk into Wimbledon knowing that everything was in that positive frame that he spoke about,”
“If you were looking back at his schedule you would say that it was difficult to see that prep when he was flying around the world playing exhibition events.”
Kyrgios spent much of the Australian summer before the tennis season started again playing at exhibitions in Mexico and Saudi Arabia, which were criticised given his withdrawal from Australia’s Davis Cup side.
Others have been more sceptical of Kyrgios.
“It didn’t look that way on Friday night when he played two sets against Djokovic,” said former world No. 1 Boris Becker.
“He talks about injuries beforehand – but to the ankle and not to the knee.
“But what Kyrgios says and what he does are often two different things.”
Stephen Rowe, who played 29 AFL games for Adelaide in the 1990s, proved the old adage that there is always a footy angle, saying “there would be 50 AFL players a week that would have some sort of meniscus problem in their knee … come on”.
Former Williamstown VFL player Bobbie Evans responded that Rowe had made a “terrible call” and he was “glad (Kyrgios) has done it.”
“I played VFL consistently with cartridge (sic) damage – now have osteoarthritis in my knees at 44 … it’s not fun some days.”
It isn’t the first time Kyrgios has had the authenticity of his injury claims doubted.
After he missed a 2016 Davis Cup tie due to illness, compatriot Bernard Tomic was overheard by an on-court microphone lashing out at Kyrgios.
“Two times Nick has faked it,” he said.
“While I’m here, Nick’s sitting down in Canberra. Bullshit he’s sick.”
Commentator Jelena Dokic defended Kyrgios’ choice to play the exhibition match, saying she didn’t think “he had any choice”.
“I don’t think it was anything that he shouldn’t have done because I think he got the opportunity to test it which is what he said he did, and he didn’t think he could stand up next week,” she said.
Kyrgios’ physiotherapist says he expects to be fit for Indian Wells in March.