Pride precedes destruction

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Australia needs to be tough on Kyrgios and Tomic if we want them to develop into true champions

Let’s get it out of the way. Nick Kyrgios is an incredibly gifted tennis player who may just make it to the top of the game. A thunderous serve, athletic movement belying his 6’5 frame and impressive physical fitness form just part of his arsenal. Add the outlandish hair, the diamond earring and his unfiltered externalisation of all thoughts and emotions, good and bad – and standing before you is the most marketable athlete in Australia. Unfortunately though, like Bernard Tomic before him, Kyrgios has fallen foul of tennis fans soon after wrestling his way into the public consciousness. It’s a slippery slope ahead for the 20-year-old, and his hubris is symptomatic of a generation of athletes being raised with a sense of entitlement and arrogance that threatens to overshadow their ability with a racquet in hand.
Earlier this month, Kyrgios made his exit in the fourth round of the 2015 Wimbledon tournament – the same tournament where, one year ago, ranked 144, Kyrgios became the first player ranked outside the top 100 to beat a world number one since 1992 when he defeated Rafael Nadal on his way to the quarter-finals. But this year, with a reputation to precede him, Kyrgios has made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Before taking to the hallowed Wimbledon turf, Kyrgios ruffled a few feathers in a pre-tournament interview, stating, “I don’t really like the sport of tennis that much. I don’t love it…I got pushed by my parents and to this day I can still say I don’t love the sport.”
It’s refreshing, in a world of sport that is driven by self-censorship and generic quotes designed to ooze modesty, to hear an athlete speak his mind. But for a sport that has given him everything – over a million dollars in prize money, and much more in endorsements at an age at which most people have barely started earning an income – a little respect was merited.
In his first match, like a child refusing to eat his vegetables, Kyrgios declared that he would simply sit down and refuse to play until the tournament referee was called to the court to resolve a disputed call. In his second match, after being reported to the umpire by a linesman for using vulgar language at the notoriously conservative tournament, Kyrgios began sarcastically clapping the linesman for doing his job, and then turned on the umpire, saying “Does it feel good to be in the chair up there? Does it feel strong to be up there?”
Finally, following his fourth round loss against Richard Gasquet, accused of throwing the second set during a bizarre meltdown, Kyrgios directed his frustration at journalists within the press conference, completely disregarding the golden rule of managing headlines as an athlete: don’t take it out on the media.
In between Kyrgios’s outbursts, which also included an attack on the Australian cheer squad, the Fanatics (who were nothing if not boorish and embarrassing in their own right), 22-year-old Bernard Tomic launched a scathing attack on Tennis Australia and Australian tennis legend, Pat Rafter. Tomic failed to clarify that there was no correlation between him being required to pay for court hire and tennis balls a few months ago, and the straight-sets demolition imposed on him by Novak Djokovic in the third round. Tomic was, appropriately, promptly booted from the Australian Davis Cup team for his indiscretion.
There are calls for “the boys to be left alone” – after all, it is true that Kyrgios and Tomic are by no means the first tennis players, or athletes, to make headlines for the wrong reasons. But to ignore the behaviour would be to miss a critical point – silence is as good as acceptance. It is no secret that several current and former stars faced the same type of criticism Tomic and Kyrgios are facing today. Federer would occasionally refuse to shake hands when defeated, while a poor performance would lead Murray to use vulgar language and begin clutching at spontaneous injuries. It is, however, the widespread derision of these athletes – the majority of whom were also identified as future world number ones at a young age – that forced them to grow up into true champions.
If the spotlight faced by Kyrgios is particularly intense, there’s a simple reason: Australian tennis has been desperate for a genuine top-10 tennis player since Lleyton Hewitt (who, even at his peak, would have struggled to make a mark in today’s power-centric game). Kyrgios is good enough to make it (and he knows it), and that is why his fans want him to play the game in the right way.
After his win against Rafael Nadal last year, Kyrgios remarked, “People keep talking about how my life will change forever and although I feel exactly the same and believe me, my mates and my family will not allow me to change.”
To the friends and family of Nick Kyrgios – are you watching closely?

Ritam Mitra
Ritam Mitra
Ritam is an award-winning journalist and lawyer based in Sydney. Ritam writes on domestic and global politics, human rights and social justice, and sport.

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