There’s a scene in the 1961 movie The Hustler in which Paul Newman, as a wild and talented young pool player called Fast Eddie Felson, gets his first chance to play against the legendary Minnesota Fats. They’re evenly matched. The games last through the night. At a certain point, Fats, who’s portrayed by Jackie Gleason, goes into the bathroom and puts himself back together — washes his face, reknots his tie, combs his hair. Fast Eddie stays out in the bar, cracking jokes and throwing down shots. Eventually, Eddie runs out of steam. Fats prevails. The point is that Fast Eddie needs to learn to pace himself, and eventually he does; when he meets Fats again, things go differently. What’s happened in the meantime is that Eddie has suffered. He’s grown up.
Against the calm, clearheaded veteran Robredo, Kyrgios sometimes looked like he was out there throwing down bourbon shots. He didn’t look grown up. Well, maybe one day the sports psychologists will get hold of him, teach him to self-regulate. Maybe he’ll live up to his potential and win a handful of majors. But I don’t know. It’s that first scene against Fats that stays with you from The Hustler. It’s the image of talent in its most raw, most unapologetic state. If you think winning is everything in sports, you may find that hard to celebrate. But it’s a joy to watch. It’s a joy even when it loses. It’s a joy even when it burns itself up.