She retrieves the laundry, then hopes for the best. One never knows with Nick Kyrgios, 22, who can beat or lose to anyone on any given day. He generally saves his best days for the very best players, owning a 5-3 combined record against Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. On the other hand, he regularly loses or retires against inferior competition. Millman, who missed the first four months of the season with a groin injury, is ranked 235th.
On Wednesday, Kyrgios’s right shoulder began aching in the third set. A lengthy massage did not help. He cursed his luck and was given a warning for a swear word he swore he never uttered.
“It’s a joke,” said Kyrgios, the No. 14 seed.
He received another warning after the third set, and a point penalty, for destroying his racket. He hung in there, with noticeably reduced power and accuracy.
“He’s injured,” Norlaila Kyrgios said, clearly upset. “I just hope he didn’t make things worse.”
Her son was working recently with a part-time coach, Sebastien Grosjean, and reached the Cincinnati final last week in impressive fashion. After his loss Wednesday, he said he did not think that partnership would last much longer.
“He deserves a player who’s better dedicated than me,” Kyrgios said. “I’m not dedicated to the game a lot. I’m not that guy.”
With or without a coach, Kyrgios hits shots that are unpredictable, playful, powerful and largely indescribable. His meltdowns are entertaining to most, though not all.
“He’s a free spirit,” Norlaila Kyrgios said. “He knows what he’s doing. If I want a coach for him, it would be more to take the burden off a loss. But he replays matches, looks at them, works it out.”
Unlike other tennis mothers on the tour who doubled as their children’s first coaches, Norlaila is not analytical about Nick’s tennis game. She roots with her heart. She never picked up a racket until recently, when one of Nick’s friends from the junior circuit began coaching her a bit. So the mother has a coach now, even though her son may not.
She will continue to travel to virtually every event with Nick, who cherishes a close relationship with his family. There is something sweetly childlike in his devotion, in his desire to make her proud. At Wimbledon in 2014, Kyrgios said that his feelings were badly hurt — and that he was inspired — by a line from his mother before he knocked out Rafael Nadal.
“I was reading a comment that she thought Rafa was too good for me,” Kyrgios said at the time. “It actually made me a bit angry.”
When his grandfather died this year, the loss hurt him deeply and affected his tennis. He also has a tattoo celebrating his grandmother, who had previously died.
“As we get older, I don’t want him to think tennis is taking away from family,” Norlaila said. “He thinks about his grandmother a lot, how he didn’t spend enough time with her, and I’d hate it if he’d think that same thing when I’m gone.”
The mother’s life story is as fascinating as Nick Kyrgios’s game. She was born in Gombak, a district in the state of Selangor, Malaysia, and left behind her aristocratic roots when she moved to Australia in her 20s. Her grandfather’s cousin, she said, was the Sultan of Pahang and therefore, by birth, she is Tengku of Pahang, loosely translated as princess of the Pahang state.
She became a computer engineer in Australia and married Giorgos Kyrgios, a Greek house painter. Nick was the couple’s third child, born in Canberra, and almost immediately proved himself a remarkable, powerful athlete.
“He was always playing beyond his age,” she said. “He was always big.”
Norlaila has learned to live with a little embarrassment. The “just try” moment happened this summer during Nick’s match against Tennys Sandgren in Washington, where he eventually retired in the second set. He was in particular pain that day, and Nick kept telling his mother on changeovers that he wanted to quit.
“If it’s too painful, of course I want him to stop,” Norlaila said. “I was telling him to just try to be competitive, if he could do it.”
Nick kept trying on Wednesday, even after the third-set injury.
“I hit one serve, and my arm never felt the same,” he said.
Norlaila will stay with him in New York if he remains in the doubles draw. She will be headed to Pahang in September for a relative’s royal wedding, then will accompany her son to the China Open in Beijing if he’s healthy enough.
“I’m worried about what to wear to the wedding,” Norlaila said.
She will not be leaving that dress at an East Side laundromat.
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