NEW YORK -- Nick Kyrgios just can't help himself.
His occasional bad behavior -- from not trying 100 percent and swearing to abusing umpires and smashing rackets -- has cost him approximately $300,000 in fines so far in his career. His latest transgressions, a record fine of $113,000 in Cincinnati earlier this month for a series of incidents and then calling the ATP "corrupt" after his US Open first-round match against Steve Johnson, could lead to a lengthy ban.
The 24-year-old Australian has won six titles on the ATP Tour and almost $8 million in prize money. He possesses a talent that Rafael Nadal, among others, thinks should see him competing for Grand Slam titles; but, for all his ability, he has been to only two Grand Slam quarterfinals, at Wimbledon in 2014 and the Australian Open in 2015.
His US Open hopes ended Saturday night in three tight sets by Russia's Andrey Rublev in the third round, and though his next assignment is the Laver Cup in Geneva later this month, the specter of a ban looms large.
During the match against Rublev, Kyrgios said: "I don't even want to be here. I want to go home." After the loss, he told reporters being away from home in Australia for five and a half months was not easy. Asked if he would actually welcome a suspension so he could spend more time at home, Kyrgios said: "I don't know if I look at it like that. I don't know. I have no say in it. I guess it's out of my control."
Kyrgios said he had not spoken to anyone who will be involved in making the decision, but intimated that he believed the ATP Tour would be weaker without him. "I guess I'm a pretty boring player," he said, sarcastically. "I don't bring much to the sport, so ..."
The Australian played superbly in the first two rounds of the US Open and, for the most part, behaved well and competed hard -- again giving fans a glimpse of what he can bring to the table. A blistering serve and a post-insane-cross-court-return dance that frustrated American Steve Johnson in a straight-sets opening victory; needing just less than two hours to beat Antoine Hoang in straight sets to reach the third round. And he also fought against Rublev on Saturday, but missed his chances, especially when he led 4-0 in a second-set tiebreak.
Winning the title in Washington was the high point of his summer and, despite what happened in Cincinnati, Kyrgios said it had been enjoyable.
"It's been all right, just up-and-down, roller-coaster stuff," he said Saturday. "I had fun, definitely had some great moments [this summer]. Still got doubles [at the Open, so] not completely out of the tournament. It's been all right."
If he is to achieve what he is capable of, Kyrgios knows he has to change. The unknown is whether he will be able to. Kyrgios has acknowledged he has dealt with mental struggles and noted in March that he is aiming to "be way more disciplined, way better professionally and do the right things." However, maybe tennis could help him help himself.
Until 2016, the ATP Tour automatically issued an eight-week suspension to a player who was fined more than $10,000 on two occasions within a 12-month period, the ATP told ESPN on Wednesday. John McEnroe, whose behavior prompted the introduction of the rule, was suspended for two months in late 1987 after he exceeded the limit ($7,500 in those days) for a second time.
"The bad thing about it was that it was being gamed," former ATP umpire Richard Ings said. "It wasn't just McEnroe and [Jimmy] Connors, but other guys were doing it, too. They had a mandatory commitment of tournaments to play, but if they broke a racket at the right time, they would go above the fines threshold and get four weeks where they weren't allowed to play."
The benefit of the rule, however, was players knew for sure they would be suspended. Now, they have to wait for an ATP judgment that has no clear timeline and could be influenced by outside factors. Kyrgios, for instance, is due to play at the Laver Cup in late September, so the ATP will likely wait until after that tournament to announce a ban.
"Maybe there's a happy medium in between," Ings said, "because the old system didn't work, and the current system is selective."
Ings believes tennis, like any sport, has a duty of care toward its players. When Kyrgios was suspended for eight weeks at the end of 2016, his ban was cut to three weeks on the condition he meet with a sports psychologist. Although the current ATP Tour rules state players can be banned if they have two incidences of "aggravated behavior" (a term that covers many offenses) in a 12-month period, any ban is still a matter of discretion. If the ATP Tour were to reintroduce an automatic-fine threshold, perhaps all subsequent suspensions could come with a condition that the player seek some sort of external help.
In the end, though, the player has to want the help. "If you look at the prize money [top] tennis players get, you look at the career earnings of a player like Kyrgios, if you want some help, it's not hard to pay for," Ings said.
"If you get that element of your game in order, the payoff is huge. He's got the game to be a consistent top-five player, to take out Grand Slams and do it regularly. Getting the mental part of the game in order would have a huge payoff for a player like him."