9 July 2019

Is Nick Kyrgios the most polarising yet compelling figure in Australian sport?

| Tim Gavel
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Nick Kyrgios - Brisbane International 2019

Nick Kyrgios seems to take pleasure in rocking the boat. File photo.

Everybody, it seems, has an opinion about Nick Kyrgios. He is either the most entertaining figure in a sport struggling for personalities, or he is a renegade with little respect for the traditions of tennis.

For good measure, the anti-Kyrgios brigade will also add a ‘wasted talent’, rivalling Mark Philippoussis and Bernard Tomic.

What isn’t up for debate is his attraction at the box office. Just ask Channel 7 who came under fire last week for showing Kyrgios ahead of women’s world number one, Australia’s Ash Barty. And what a star she is!

The large audience wanting to watch Krygios though indicates that he is a ratings magnet. So for everybody who says they will never watch him again, there are just as many attracted to watch his, at times, brilliant vaudeville-come-tragedy style of play.

But we can’t forget that his attraction is backed up by his success in majors with two quarterfinal appearances, which is the highest he has achieved, with the last being at the Australian Open in 2015.

There is a generation that perhaps see his personality as a reflection of their own rebellion towards conformity, while there are others of an older demographic who see his behaviour as a reflection of their concerns about the next generation.

At 24 years of age, Kyrgios seems to have settled on a persona that is part anti-hero, part entertainer, with tennis secondary to the former. In many respects, despite his antics on and off the court, there appears to be a certain amount of pleasure in rocking the boat, which at times is usually stationary.

His comments after the loss to Nadal at Wimbledon were telling; “I know what I am capable of; just depends. I’m a great tennis player, but I don’t do the other stuff. I’m not the most professional guy. I won’t train day-in-day-out. I won’t show up every day.”

The match, it has to be said, was one of the more outstanding I’ve viewed for a long time, as Kyrgios showed more than a glimpse of capabilities.

What followed in the press conference though, while highly entertaining, was troubling.

The concern I have with his comments is that it can be perceived as belittling those who are trying to do their best and put in maximum effort at all times. A little humility and empathy wouldn’t go astray.

In the eyes of some, he is perhaps the most honest tennis player on the circuit. Perhaps he is even considered the most honest sportsperson in professional sport. Hard to imagine too many in a professional team sport saying they may not show up every day. That’s not to say they don’t have off-days because they didn’t put in the effort.

So where to from here? Does he continue with the renegade approach, which shows no sign of affecting his marketing capabilities, or will he come to the realisation that he can be both an entertainer, and a Grand Slam winner?

Personally, I think Kyrgios needs a coach that he believes in, a coach who understands what Kyrgios wants out of life and can organise tennis to be a part of that.

Not that my opinion or anyone else’s has any bearing on what he is likely to do next. Perhaps that’s what’s so interesting about Kyrgios, we never quite know what’s in store!

Having beaten the likes of Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray he has shown his enormous talent but in the end, talent will only get you part of the way.

In the meantime, Kyrgios remains an enigma, likely to keep dividing the opinions of sports fans throughout the world.

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Said it before and I’ll say it again of both Kyrgios and Tomic: can they even play decent tennis? Have they won any majors? Seems to me that they both know that they are second raters and try to deflect attention from their deficiencies with displays of bad behaviour.

Tim, regardless of who’s playing, you don’t get into two hours of something and then whip it away at the climax. That would be courtus interruptus.

HiddenDragon5:53 pm 10 Jul 19

Oh for the halcyon days of yore, before sport was flooded with truckloads of corporate money, when sports stars had to work as tradies/teachers/bank clerks/greens keepers etc. to pay the bills.

Kyrgios is quite regularly seen at his old haunt in Lyneham. He is a surprisingly (given his reputation) engaging fellow who is doing quite a bit of philanthropy.

I don’t know about him being polarising. I trained with him at Gold’s Gym in the early days of his career before I joined Club Lime and he seemed pleasant enough, but sometimes a bit brash for a youngster. The photographers around him all the time were a bit of a distraction but he was on point in the gym and seemed to be making his way in the sporting arena with help from us and Christos.

In recent times there has been bad publicity about his on-court behaviour but that is more for theatre than anything else. It is expected for a male tennis player. Bad on-court behaviour has never harmed anybody in the past – John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors being a case in point – and I believe we will be seeing the best of Nick in the foreseeable future.

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