by Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
It was precisely two minutes before Nick Kyrgios started to complain on Wednesday, and the only surprise was that it took so long.
Tennis bad boy Kyrgios maintained his Wimbledon campaign with a quarter-final win over Chilean Christian Garin. As at every step of his anxious, tantrums, and noise-filled journey to the last four, he wondered–is it good for tennis, or bad?
It’s not a straightforward inquiry, because tennis and hooligans have a long history. Kyrgios is an unmistakably naughty boy who is happy to be one, and he willingly makes his way into arguments with just about everyone.
Line umpires deal with his anger for daring to make calls out of his favour, stewards hear his displeasure for all kinds of reasons, and tournament umpires receive his blasts for being the last official streak.
Competitors are mocked and baited with armpit jabs, theatrical arcs on the stands, sniping notes, and multi-level mind games, especially if they are clearly influenced by them, such as the world number 5 ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second round.
Ball kids are told if they don’t get enough bananas right away. Journalists who dare raise their hands during a press conference risk a direct confrontation if they ask him about his antics. His chest — including his girlfriend and coach — is also routinely in the verbal firing line.
On his first game in London, Kyrgios spat in the direction of a fan who was harassing him and was fined $10,000 for the effort. After the round of 16 match, he claimed that “all publicity is good publicity”. A day later, it was revealed that he is facing charges alleging that he assaulted an ex-girlfriend in his native Australia last year.
If you’re not particularly familiar with Kyrgios and all of this made you think he’s a rather unattractive character, you won’t be overwhelmed by the conflicting controversy.
However, the mystery of tennis is real and present. Kyrgios provides compelling theater every time he steps onto the field.
Pleasure to feel guilty for some, but good luck trying to stop watching if you get caught in one of his matches. There’s always something going on, and for a sport that’s nowhere near as popular in the US as it’s used to, the viewability is worth its weight in gold.
The Kyrgios game itself is exciting. He has a serving missile and smooth tactics that feature extravagant shots and crooked shots. You never know what will come next. In the third round, he channeled doping rope tactics (his words), and tricked opponent Brandon Nakashima into thinking he was injured, before coming back to life to take the match in five sets.
He is 27, and Friday’s half match against Rafael Nadal will be the first time he has reached this late stage of a major tournament. But in many ways, it’s a throwback to a time when the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Conyers were screaming, poised, and using the crowd to their advantage.
Over the past two decades, the men’s game has instead been built on a foundation of triple excellence from all-time greats. Roger Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic are generally considered good sporting ambassadors, but despite their brilliance, even they can’t play with crowd sentiment like Kyrgios.
You’d think the gentle lawns and polite roads of Wimbledon might be inappropriate for him, but that’s not the case at all, certainly not this year. Kerios’ service beast is hotter on the lawn, and the historically top-shell London crowds appreciate the artist more these days, arguing – with some merit – that the bad boys give more value to the price of your ticket.
Kyrgios has always had a huge talent. At 19, he beat Nadal at Wimbledon, but failed to deliver on his early promise for too long. He’s currently ranked 40th in the rankings while playing a restricted schedule as he couldn’t imagine spending much time outside of Australia.
As always with such characters, everyone has something to say.
Tsitsipas describes him as having a “evil side” to his personality.
His Australian teammate and former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash also did not hold back. “He has brought tennis to the lowest level I can see in terms of the professionalism of the games, the cheating, the fouling, the abuse, the aggressive behavior of the referees and the line guys,” Cash told the BBC. “Something has to be done about it. It’s just an absolute circus. It’s gone to extremes now.”
Kyrgios’ response? He is “happy” that his success is making people angry – and he will continue to do “what I want.”
He’s the kind of player who forces strong opinions one way or the other, the kind of real character you either love or hate. You don’t have to watch him for more than a few minutes to make a decision, choosing to portray him as a highly entertaining superhero or a Machiavellian villain.
As always, the truth will likely fall somewhere in the middle, leaving us only knowing two things. Kyrgios’ Wimbledon career continues, perhaps to the end.
As for whether it’s good for tennis or bad for it, the answer is – most likely – both.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. sYou can sign up for our daily newsletter here.
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