Nick Kyrgios may not be the world’s most talented tennis player but he is comfortably its most controversial.
The 20 year old Australian has been embroiled in a string of controversies over the past year, regularly attracting more attention for his antics than for his on-court performances. Some in the tennis world have criticised Kyrgios, suggesting that his actions ill befit the privileged position he occupies and are bringing the game into disrepute. Meanwhile others, including Andy Murray, have spoken out in favour of Kyrgios, claiming that his outbursts are simply a result of his passion for the game and that his exciting brand of tennis is exactly what the game needs to draw in a new generation of fans.
Probably Kyrgios’ most controversial moment to date occurred during his Rogers Cup match against Swiss player Stan Wawrinka. Kyrgios was caught by a courtside microphone sledging Wawrinka by making offensive comments about his opponent’s girlfriend and was subsequently fined $10,000 and received a suspended 28 day ban. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why Kyrgios is fast becoming a problem for the hierarchy of the professional tennis world.
However, the level of support for Kyrgios from commentators and many of his fellow players shows that there is more to the Australian than bravado and a smart mouth. As former British number one John Lloyd pointed out, Kyrgios’ natural attacking style is the type of tennis that fans like to watch. The young Australian clearly has the potential to be both a fan favourite and a genuine contender in the major tennis competitions.
The problem is that he is not yet able to consistently produce the kind of performance that saw him defeat Rafael Nadal on his way to the 2014 Wimbledon quarter finals and without the performances to back up his now famous persona there is a risk that Kyrgios will be written off as little more than a loudmouth.
If he is to achieve the success he is so clearly capable of, then he needs to learn to control his temper and avoid the tantrums and ill-judged barbs that have seen him court the kind of controversy that modern tennis so rarely sees.
This does not mean that Kyrgios should withdraw into himself, quite the opposite. The brash young Australian is exactly the kind of maverick personality that modern tennis has been crying out for.
There is a good reason why snooker viewing figures spike when Ronnie O’Sullivan plays or why there was such a feverish response to Kevin Pietersen’s removal from the England cricket team.
Sports fans love a player who can get them out of their seats with moments of sheer sporting brilliance, but the one thing they love even more is a player who refuses to toe the line.
Tennis is wildly overpopulated with bland “ambassadors for the game” who spout the party line, compromise to appease the sponsors, repeat the clichéd lines that keep things ticking over and quietly ensure the reputation of professional tennis to go unsullied. They may be fantastic players – Roger Federer being the prime example – but sometimes fans need someone different. Sometimes fans need an antihero, a maverick who revels in the unconventional and for whom conformity and efficiency take a backseat to joyous self-expression. These are the players that inspire a new generation of fans and get people talking.
They are the special, once-in-a-generation talents whose moments of genius trigger a legion of playground imitators. Nick Kyrgios has the potential to be his generation’s John McEnroe and the man to bring back the spice that tennis has been sorely lacking.
Image courtesy of ThoamsB.