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Clancy Aboud tackles the perennial Nick Kyrgios conundrum.
Every sport has its villains. Look no further than the theatrical antics of UFC fighter Conor McGregor or the former NBA star Dennis Rodman. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t want these guys in your corner. They’re the characters that we love to hate, but more often than not, hate to love. Whether this infamy is forged through a mix of on field grubbery, personal scandals or random outbursts that rub you the wrong way, (not pointing any ‘fingers’ John Hopoate), it’s hard to overlook that these archetypal ‘bad guys’ keep us coming back for more. With widely beloved Nadal ruled out with an abdominal injury, the Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Singles Final was locked in, with the centre court preparing to host two of the game’s current villains. As such, this match up of Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios positioned tennis fans to decide: if you dislike both, who do you tolerate marginally more?
Over his nine year professional career, Kyrgios has racked up north of $11.1 million dollars. But from that, subtract the $800,000 in fines and you’ve got a tennis player that our nation battles to simultaneously love and loathe. The brand of talent that Kyrgios flaunts can’t be denied, but it’s not his skill that comes into question. It’s the apparent surplus of unutilised potential that leads his critics to dub him “the biggest waste of talent in tennis history”.
Equipped with an Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) tennis scholarship at the age of 16, Kyrgios made his mark in the junior stream claiming several titles under his belt including a 2013 Junior Wimbledon doubles boys’ championship title alongside good mate Thanasi Kokkinakis. It was only earlier this year in fact that the ‘Special Ks’ landed the Australian Open men’s double title, the nostalgic underpinnings of the duo sweetening their success. “When I say I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else, I mean it. It was just special,” Kyrgios said in a heart-felt post match interview.
Their chemistry both on and off the court is what captivated Australia and has played a major role in the success of this high-octane pairing. A friendship forged through a 20 year history and a mutual love of NBA and first-person shooter games appears to have contributed to their seamless displays on court. When asked post-match about this dynamic, I think Kokkinakis said it perfectly. “I think sometimes when things aren’t going right, he loses his temper, I’m there to calm him down. Trying to be a steady head out there for him. But I also wouldn’t want to take away from that energy, that fire because that’s what makes Nick, Nick”. To which in true Kyrgios fashion, the Canberran chimed in, “That’s the cutest answer I’ve ever heard”.
Kyrigios’ Wimbledon campaign didn’t end in the same success with a 4-set final loss to the three-time defending champion, and in true Nick Kyrigios fashion, his run to the second-place silverware wasn’t without controversy. In the first round, he landed himself in some hot water with a “spitting scandal” costing the Canberran $14,500, the largest of the fines handed out at this year’s tournament. Just another incident of courtside heckling, regrettably one that transcended his conventional mouthing off. Another notable dispute occurred in the final no less, with Kyrgios fired up about a bothersome spectator distracting him during a vital service game in the third set. A confrontation with the umpire provided the world with the hilariously viral quote “She’s drunk out of her mind…the one that looks like she’s had about 700 drinks bro”.
More headlines swept the Kyrgios camp with an alleged assault charge made by a former girlfriend forcing the 27-year-old to take on Wimbledon amidst growing public opinion on his character. Set to face court in Canberra next month on August 2nd, Kyrgios tried to downplay the allegation’s impact on his Wimbledon preparation though eventually admitting that he is “only human” and that “it was hard to kind of just focus on the mission at hand”. An unfavourable shadow cast over Kyrgios’ climb to the final, however he appeared to put it enough out of his mind to beat the Chilean in four sets.
Kyrgios dominates headlines with more than just his mouth with a playing style that continues to captivate. The Kyrgios package is quite distinctive, fitted with underarm aces, heavy forehand returns, explosive bunt back-hands, the occasional “tweener” (between-the-legs) and most notably, the sharpest tool in his artillery – that thumping first serve. A serve famed for climbing to speeds of 230km/h, it is undoubtedly one of the best in the men’s game at present. A serve, that despite the vastly varying attitudes towards Kyrgios, forms a point where all these opinions intersect. Say what you want about the guy, but all agree, it’s a red hot serve.
When that doesn’t secure an ace, he’s created the opportunity for an aggressive airborne follow up forehand that’s often powerful enough to ensure the point. His return of serve is similarly potent with that flat double-handed backhand neutralising the ball, giving himself the opportunity to finesse his footwork, returning shots that he really shouldn’t be able to. So although the trick shot theatrics are an enjoyable novelty of Kyrgios’ game, it’s the foundation that he lays down in his opening shots that set him up for success.
But the big question that comes out of every Kyrgios story: is Nick Kyrgios good for tennis? ‘Good’ is subjective in its nature, but you can’t deny that he’s definitely doing something for the game, something progressive. For tennis purists this may be a tough pill to swallow, just as jarring as seeing red air jordans touching the hallowed green of the traditional Wimbledon courts. Nevertheless with the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ philosophy, he’s definitely attracting new attention. “My goal is to bring in new fans that may not be following tennis to watch tennis”. Fan or not, the eccentricity of an underarm between-the-legs serve is something you simply want to witness.
This incandescent talent may be a little rough around the edges, but Aussies love rallying around a battler, and between the media, the critics and the keyboard warriors, it seems that Nick is battling the noise every time he’s got the racquet in hand. But with the court as his stage, the facts are there, people are buying front row seats to the Nick Kyrgios show.