Column: Kyrgios shows sports’ misplaced faith in pure talent

In “Narcos,” the television drama based on the life and crimes of Pablo Escobar, the now long-dead Colombian cocaine trafficker is shown making a roaring bonfire of banknotes to keep his family warm while they are on the run. This waste in a country with grinding poverty comes across as doubly selfish and lunatic. Put to better uses, such riches could improve lives.

The scene now springs to mind when thinking about Nick Kyrgios squandering his abundance of talent for tennis.

Again, it’s the needless waste that is so infuriating. Imagine how many other people would love to have the physical gifts and youth that the 21-year-old, 14th-ranked Australian neither maximizes nor fully values.

Tanking at the Shanghai Masters, his insulting lack of effort and interest in losing to Mischa Zverev, wasn’t merely disrespectful to his German opponent and to paying fans, it was nauseating in its selfishness. A sports equivalent of torching dollars, the frittering away of precious assets that other, more appreciative people could put to better use.

Apologists say Kyrgios deserves sympathy, that he is young and clearly struggling in tennis’ spotlight. The wastrel himself, in a statement of apology, explained that he was physically and mentally burned out after a “long week” in Tokyo and “travel throughout the continent.”

Ugh. First-world problems.

For perspective on how blessed he is, Kyrgios could visit any number of hospitals and refugee camps around the world to hear first-hand from the less fortunate how they would give their hind teeth to be healthy, to hop on planes, freely cross borders and see the world, and to earn more than $3.5 million, as Kyrgios has in four years as a pro — in short, to fulfill their potential.

Thinking of them, one realizes how mealy-mouthed the men’s tour was in suspending Kyrgios from ATP tournaments for eight weeks to Jan. 15, short enough for him to return for first-round play at the Australian Open which starts the following day.

Kyrgios could reduce the suspension to an even more insignificant three weeks by agreeing to accept help from a psychologist.

Hardly tough love. Just more indulgence for a player who ticks all the boxes of brattishness.

However, there is a lesson in this sorry saga about the relative values of pure talent versus hard work.

Sports put a premium on physical attributes: height, strength, speed, quick reactions. Yet, more often than not, the most important muscle of all for sporting success is between the ears.

Two successful athletes — Andy Murray in tennis and Nico Rosberg in Formula One — spring to mind.

Neither have the pure talent of some of their top competitors.

As quick as he is behind the wheel, Rosberg doesn’t have quite the sublime touch of Lewis Hamilton, his teammate at Mercedes who beat him to the world title both last year and the year before.

And for all his fabulous racket skills, Murray doesn’t quite have the sinewy athleticism of Novak Djokovic or the seemingly effortless grace of Roger Federer — who together have beaten him 13 of the combined 16 times he has played them at tennis’ Grand Slam major tournaments.

But both Murray and Rosberg are hard grafters. They could, like Kyrgios, have trotted out lame excuses for giving up. They could, after their repeated career disappointments, have accepted second best.

But instead these refuseniks have persevered, redoubling their efforts, to the point that both are almost within touching distance of the summit.

Rosberg carries a 33-point lead over Hamilton into this weekend’s U.S. Grand Prix.

Another victory, which would be his tenth this season compared to six so far for Hamilton, wouldn’t lock up the world championship for Rosberg. But, with just three races remaining after this stop in Austin, Texas, the 31-year-old German could move significantly closer to the crowning achievement that would move him out of the shadow of Hamilton and of Rosberg’s father, Keke, the world champion in 1982.

Murray, long the fourth member of tennis’ “Fab Four” behind Djokovic, Federer and Rafael Nadal, has had such a standout 2016 that the 29-year-old Briton now has his sights on the No. 1 ranking that Djokovic has monopolized without interruption since July 2014.

“I believe I can get there,” Murray said after winning the Shanghai Masters, his sixth title this year. “These last few months have proved that to me.”

So rather than ask what tennis should be doing for Kyrgios, we should be asking Kyrgios what he is prepared to do to help himself.

With the array of shots and the body for modern tennis, he could amount to something.

Or to nothing. It’s his choice.

If he can’t bothered, he should make way. Leave the stage to others who hunger for it and, more importantly, who refuse to waste away.

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