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Home   News   Tebbutt: The Kyrgios conundrum

Tebbutt: The Kyrgios conundrum

Aug 20, 2019
written by: Tennis Canada
written by: Tennis Canada

There’s no doubt Nick Kyrgios completely lost it during his second-round match against Karen Khachanov at the Cincinnati Masters 1000 event last week.

In the fourth game of the opening set with him serving at 1-2, he suddenly belted a ball out of the stadium for no apparent reason. From there things gradually deteriorated into the 24-year-old Aussie’s crazed world. He used a dispute about time between points as a pretext to rail incessantly at umpire Fergus Murphy using a stream of obscenities – mainly during change-overs.

Then there was him leaving the court at the end of the second set with two racquets and proceeding to smash them in a nearby hallway and return to the court with the fractured frames.

Photo by: TennisTV.com

The most disturbing scene was him sitting in his chair bellowing nonsense – among the most ludicrous being about (repeat time violator) Rafael Nadal – “Rafa certainly doesn’t play this sport, as far as I know.” Kyrgios was talking to himself. He might as well have been howling at the moon. It was uncomfortable to watch.

Then, following the handshake with Khachanov at the net after losing 6-7(3), 7-6(4), 6-2, he swore at Murphy, spat in his direction and didn’t shake his hand.

Here’s a good summary of Kyrgios’ behaviour during the match from Channel Nine in Australia:

There are many sides to Kyrgios’ self-indulgent behaviour – and one that’s too seldom mentioned is its effect on his opponent. As with players such as John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase of Romania before him – it’s all about him and his opponent is treated like he doesn’t even exist. The distraction of a player like Kyrgios carrying on constantly is not something an opponent should have to endure. It’s easy to say opponents should ignore it – but Kyrgios’ conduct is so far outside the norm that it’s basically impossible.

He’s like those two others from bygone eras of tennis – McEnroe and Nastase. All are indisputably tennis geniuses. They have/had gifts and talents that enable them to play the game with skills that the rest of the fellow players cannot approach. There have been a few other extremely-talented players, though not with comparable off-the-charts brilliance, over the years such as American Gene Mayer, Frenchmen Henri Leconte and Fabrice Santoro, Marcelo Rios of Chile and Czech Hana Mandlikova as well more recently Agnieszka Radwanska and today’s Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and maybe even Fabio Fognini.

Roger Federer also is unquestionably a tennis genius but his impeccable behaviour puts him in a class apart from the aforementioned tempestuous trio – an exception to that rule.

Photo by: TennisTV.com

Grouping Kyrgios with McEnroe and Nastase begs the question as to why is/was their behaviour was so uncontrolled and outrageous. McEnroe was outrageous with his temperamental outbursts to the point of being paranoid about tennis officials conspiring against him. In a 1983 semi-final in San Francisco against Kevin Curren of South Africa, he sat down after what he thought was a bad call in the first-set tiebreak, refusing to play on. What happened? Curren went over and pleaded with him to continue – and you don’t have to guess who eventually won by a 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-4 score. That took prize money away from Curren that he would have received if he hadn’t bothered to try to convince McEnroe not to quit.

A similar incident took place during the final of the 1975 Canadian Open in Toronto. Nastase got what he believed was a bad call in the first-set tiebreak against gentlemanly Manuel Orantes of Spain. He proceeded to sulk and not try the rest of the way in the best-of-five set match until – childlike – he briefly imagined near the very end that he might be able to pull off some sort of miracle comeback. So he tried for a couple of games before capitulating.

McEnroe’s older American compatriot Jimmy Connors gave him some choice words during their 1977 Wimbledon semi-final because he was fed up with McEnroe’s distracting histrionics.

The stories are legion about Nastase – he mimicked opponents to provoke them, he once put on black-face when playing African-American Arthur Ashe and he engaged in all manner of tantrums. There was no end to the mayhem he created. He once drove American player Clark Graebner, a big strong dude, nuts.

Here’s a paragraph from story by Curry Kirkpatrick in Sports Illustrated in 1972. “At the Royal Albert Hall in London, Nastase’s mimicry angered Clark Graebner to such an extent that the American climbed across the net, grabbed Nastase by the shirtfront and threatened to crack open his head with the racket. Nastase later defaulted, claiming he was “physically terrified.” Graebner was silently acclaimed as a savior by touring pros everywhere.”

Kyrgios is unquestionably the most raw-talented player, in terms of tennis skills, to come along since Federer who, although a bad actor at times in his youth, became the paragon of a sportsman once he broke through in the pro cranks circa 2002.

Here are some thoughts on why Kyrgios and soul-mates McEnroe and Nastase are/were the way they are/were.

First, to master the sport at such an elite level and with such apparent ease is obviously a gift. No one becomes a Kyrgios, McEnroe or Nastase by practising hours and hours – more than other players – at some tennis academy or national training centre. So maybe the God-given superior ability is the cause of them being high strung and operating on a skill/emotional plane that’s its own unique sensory experience – a tight-wire act with them always on the edge.

Secondly, and this seemed to apply to McEnroe especially, they must somewhere deep inside wonder why they have this extraordinary talent that’s normal for them but way out of the ordinary for the rest of their peers. One sensed McEnroe never came to grips with being a genius during his pro career. One of this writer’s favourite McEnroe memories was watching him in the warm-up before a 1988 night match at the US Open. At one point – just knocking a ball to a ball boy at the far end – he made the most minimal of flicks of the wrist and the ball flew about 100 feet to the other end. It was like magic – any mere mortal applying that little force to the ball would probably barely have propelled it to the net.

During his heyday, he seemed uncomfortable with being so gifted. But once he retired, and especially when he started playing veteran’s events, he got in great shape and seemingly came to terms with his genius – if not his temper. Now 60 years old, he plays the sport at a level higher than any sexagenarian in the sport’s history.

Thirdly, players like Kyrgios, McEnroe and Nastase must feel that they should beat every opponent they play based on the talent and skill levels they possess. It has to be frustrating for them when that talent and skill is not resulting in a win. The main obstacle for them is that there are qualities, besides exceptional talent, that can lead to success in tennis matches – among them are fitness, determination, composure and consistency. Often a Kyrgios, McEnroe or Nastase falls short in one or more of those areas, turning the odds sharply in their opponent’s favour.

Kyrgios seems to only get truly fired up playing the very best players. He’s 2-0 vs. Novak Djokovic, 3-4 vs. Rafael Nadal and 1-3 vs. Federer (not counting Laver Cup results) with the third-set score in his three losses being 7-6(5), 7-6(5) and 7-5.

It’s impossible to know what the future holds for the troubled Kyrgios, a man seemingly civil and personable away from the tennis court but an emotional train wreck on it.

Nastase won his only two Grand Slam titles by the time he was 26, and McEnroe won his seven by age 25.

It seems unlikely the 24-year-old Kyrgios is about to start winning Grand Slam titles soon or anytime in the future.

He’s impossible to figure out. Against Khachanov last week, in the first set he was complaining about a foot injury so intently that the TV commentators expressed the view that he might be forced to stop. But for the rest of the match, he seemed fine – not a peep about the foot.

In the past, he has been fined, consulted a psychologist and claimed to be reformed and committed to change. The ATP has fined him $113,000 (US) this time. He resides for tax purposes in the Bahamas and apparently does not lack for money, so any fine is no real punishment.

The only way he will ever reform is for him to be suspended, to have the game taken away from him for a substantial length of time – removing him from the limelight and making him no longer relevant. That would possibly force some self-reflection and maybe – even if the chances are slight – make him face reality and start to fulfill his potential as a truly exceptional athlete.

Some people might simply call it growing up.

FÉLIX IS NO. 1

Less than two weeks after he turned 19, Félix Auger-Aliassime has become the No. 1-ranked men’s tennis player in Canada. He rose to the top spot when Milos Raonic, who didn’t play, lost 180 points from reaching the Cincinnati quarter-finals a year ago. So Auger-Aliassime is now No. 19 and Raonic No. 22.

Auger Aliassime joins Raonic and Denis Shapovalov as the only Canadians to rank in the top 20 since the ATP introduced computer rankings in August, 1973.

Here are the Canadians who have ranked in the top 50:

    1. Milos Raonic – (No. 3 – 2016)
    2. Félix Auger-Aliassime – (No. 19 – 2019)
    3. Denis Shapovalov – (No. 20 – 2019)
  1. Vasek Pospisil – (No. 25 – 2014)
  2. Greg Rusedski – (No. 41 – 1995)
  3. Andrew Sznajder – (No. 46 – 1989)
  4. Glenn Michibata – (No. 48 – 1986)

Based on current rankings, Raonic and Auger-Aliassime will be seeded for next week’s US Open, while current No. 38 Shapovalov will not.

CANADIAN SENIORS

The Canadian Senior Championships are taking place at five Toronto-area clubs this week – Bayview Golf and Country Club, Donalda Club, Granite Club, Toronto Cricket Club and Toronto Lawn Tennis Club. There are men’s and women’s events from the over-35 category to over-85.

A notable pair in the men’s over-80 doubles is former Canadian Davis Cupper Francois Godbout (pictured above on left with ex-Canadian Davis Cup captain and top-100 player Martin Laurendeau) who is playing with all-time Canadian legend, 87-year-old Bob Bedard.

A random selection of some singles players Canadian fans might be familiar with in the various events include former NHL-er Dominic Moore (35), Philippe Le Blanc (45), Karl Hale (50), Diane Blondeau (55), Bill Cowan (60), John Pichen (60), Don McCormick (70), Bob Bedard (80) and Inge Weber (80).

Draws, schedules and other information click here.

(Feature Photo: TennisTV.com)