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Can Perennial Tennis Bad Boy Kyrgios be an Asset to the Sport?

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Photo: AP

By Nancy Gillen |

Often sporting multiple earrings and enough hair gel to open a salon, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios cuts an unusual figure on the tennis scene.

It’s not just his appearance that causes heads to turn, however. His actions on and off the pitch often make headlines, both positive and negative.

The latest controversy has seen the 24-year-old receive a $113,000 fine for his behavior at this week’s Cincinnati Masters, a record amount issued by the Association of Tennis Professionals.

The organization may still punish the player further, it seems, having threatened the possibility of a competitive ban. 

Kyrgios seemed to suffer a complete meltdown at the Lindner Family Tennis Center, accusing umpire Fergus Murphy of starting the shot clock too early in a match against Russia’s Karen Khachanov.

Among other comments, he branded Murphy a “potato,” “the worst f***ing umpire on the Tour” and “a f***ing tool”. 

Having received a penalty, Kyrgios then proceeded to smash up two tennis racquets off court, returning with them in hand as if to prove a point.

He eventually lost the match 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, refusing to shake Murphy’s hand and appearing to spit in the direction of the umpire.

Kyrgios has previous issues with Murphy, having already clashed with him at last month’s Washington Open and the Queen’s tournament in London in June.

Indeed, a disrespectful attitude towards officials and on-court tantrums are a regular feature in Kyrgios’s six-year professional career, with the player having to pay at least 10 fines for various offenses so far.

His behavior was perhaps epitomized at Wimbledon this year, a tournament known for its tradition and strict dress-code. Kyrgios, in contrast, prepared for his second-round clash with tennis heavyweight Rafael Nadal in unorthodox fashion, choosing to spend the evening prior at the pub.

Many claim that Kyrgios’s antics are rude and unprofessional. Certainly, in the case of the Cincinnati Open, the swearing and spitting were both, and Kyrgios deserved the heavy fine he received.

When he harnesses his spirited personality, however, the Australian can be an asset for tennis.

The need for a character like Kyrgios is becoming all the more pressing, with men’s tennis currently facing an impending crisis – a dearth of crowd-drawing players.

Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are all entering the twilight stage of their respective careers, despite their continued domination on the big stage. Andy Murray is fighting to recover from recent hip surgery, but it is unlikely he will ever reach the lofty heights he used to play at again.

These illustrious names, who have kept fans around the world hooked on tennis for years, will soon be gone from the sport’s top level.

Players such as 22-year-old Alexander Zverev and 23-year-old Daniil Medvedev are preparing to step into their trainers, but it is Kyrgios that can really bring the crowds in.

When he is not smashing his rackets up in anger, Kyrgios has an enchanting side to his game.

Take the Washington Open, for instance.

Kyrgios won the tournament, despite his run-in with Murphy, but it was not without the help of a little audience participation.

He asked a fan where to serve his match-point on three different occasions during the competition, including in the final against Medvedev. The fan’s suggestion proved successful each time, with Kyrgios rushing over to offer his thanks to the individual in question.

This novel and endearing act proved to be a hit with the crowd, who cheered the victor off court after every match.

Social media was awash with clips of Kyrgios taking tips from fans. With the greatest respect to the Washington Open, only die-hard tennis fans would have been aware of the tournament before this point. Suddenly, it had reached a wider audience.

The same happened when Kyrgios faked an underarm serve during his round of 16 match against Yoshihito Nishioka, again at the Washington Open.

The move caused both his opponent and the audience to erupt with laughter, and again, the tournament organizers had a viral video on their hands.

Indeed, the underarm serve, which Kyrgios has become synonymous with, has created a new point of debate in tennis. Some see it as disrespectful, but Kyrgios has found a legitimate way of earning points against tough opposition, which only adds bite to a match and makes it more competitive. Subsequently, the audience are more entertained.

The player is not just a class clown, either. He can really play when he wants to, with his aggressive yet attractive style earning him six career titles.

With Kyrgios, however, it seems that the good must come with the bad. He is disrespectful and petulant at times, but can then set the court alight at his next tournament.

Despite his pitfalls, tennis needs the dynamism and spectacle that Kyrgios brings. His unprofessional behaviour should be stamped down on, but conversely, the benefits of his exuberant personality should be celebrated and capitalised on. 

At the very least, Kyrgios brings an unpredictability to tennis.  

As the final preparations are made for next week’s US Open in New York City, the sporting world will be waiting to see what he does next. 

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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