Aussie sportsmen are known as much for their sledging as for their prowess on the field, but Nick Kyrgios' latest outburst against Stan Wawrinka must surely take the cake!
Finding himself in a tight corner in the first set with a barrage of Stan's famous groundstrokes, Kyrgios walked to within earshot of Wawrinka and claimed that his buddy and Aussie teammate, Thanasi Kokkinakis, had slept with Stan's supposed current girlfriend, 19-year-old Croatian Donna Vekic.
The outburst was picked up by the courtside microphones leaving Wawrinka, his coach Magnus Norman and many of the courtside spectators stunned. Tennis has always had its fair share of bad boys starting with Ilie Nastase the original 'bad man' of tennis.
Tennis' bad boys
This was followed by the irrepressible John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, who infuriated their opponents and fans alike with their extraordinary talent with the racquet and the mouth! These players added some spark to the game by passing witty and condescending remarks to spectators, officials and, on some occasions, even to themselves! However, very rarely did they insult and make personal remarks against their opponents.
Getting under the skin
It's a known fact that the Aussies always find ways of getting 'under the skin' of their opponents when things don't go their way. People refer to it as sledging, gamesmanship, mental disintegration and a few other technical sounding terms. Coincidentally, Kyrgios has recently started working with Lleyton Hewitt, a former Wimbledon champion, and no stranger to 'in your face' aggression.
Nick Kyrgios. Pic/AFP
I hope Lleyton's first few lessons to Kyrgios were more about his game and not about 'mental disintegration'. Kyrgios is a powerhouse of talent and Hewitt has his job cut out to iron out some serious flaws in Kyrgios's game if he is to realise his potential.
Sport today is extremely competitive and the stakes are high not only for the player, but also for the support staff and entourage of the players who put in so much work behind the scenes for their client. Unfortunately, in today's day and age, spectators and the general public love to see verbal confrontation as much as seeing the opponents go at each other through their serves and groundstrokes.
Tennis matches in particular have increasingly become like 'gladiatorial' contests between two players who for the better part are supremely gifted and fit athletes. Having said that, Kyrgios' outburst is completely unacceptable and untenable.
Confrontations in tennis almost always happen between the player and the linesman or chair umpire. Over the past many years, even the usually 'cool' players like Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander, Steffi Graf, Pete Sampras and more recently Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal have had run ins with the chair umpires and officials. But all of them kept the sanctity of the game by never hurling abuse, let alone personal insults, at their opponents.
One sincerely hopes that the ATP does not let Kyrgios get away lightly as this is not the first, and I suspect not the last, time he has lost control. However, given the ATP's pretty dismal record in the past, it would be a big surprise to see Kyrgios really pay for what he did.
The writer is a former India player