The Australian tennis player has a reputation for childish on-court behaviour, but the nature of professional sport is one that has little time for petulance.
Last week, following Nick Kyrgios’ impressive triumph at the Japan Open which landed the Aussie his third ATP title, some began to wonder if this success would herald a change in a man whose reputation for on-court antics precedes that of his ability to play tennis.
A week later, nothing has changed. Heading straight to the Shanghai Open in a bid to add to his collection of titles, Kyrgios cruised through his first round encounter against Sam Querrey while claiming he was ‘bored’. However, boredom in winning soon turned to boredom in losing, as the world no. 14 once again allowed his silly side to get the better of him, as he tamely surrendered at the hands of Mischa Zverev. Kyrgios has since been fined £13,000 for showing a “lack of best efforts”, and for verbally abusing a spectator.
Of course, tennis has had its fair share of characters over the years, not least those of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, whose closely fought encounters in the 80s were viewed as much for entertainment, rather than sporting value. If anything, Nick Kyrgios is a modern, twisted version of those sort of characters. Standing out against the grey, and at times robotic nature of modern tennis, the Australian finds himself looked down upon for his tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve. Kyrgios’ bullish and argumentative attitude is one that is commonplace in many other walks of life, but there is a line between having ‘character’ and being petulant, and the Aussie usually finds himself well over that line.
The question is, does such an attitude and tendency towards confrontation hinder one’s success in professional sport? Unfortunately for Kyrgios, the answer is invariably yes. Throughout all sport, we see countless examples of professionals who have fallen by the wayside as a result of their unprofessional behaviour. One recent example is football’s Joey Barton, whose Rangers career is all but over after a bust-up with manager Mark Warburton, and revelations about his betting tendencies. Barton’s petulant, self inflated mindset has been his own worst enemy throughout his career, but this seems to be the final nail in the coffin of a player who has always valued himself more highly than his true worth.
However, there are times when professional athletes can still achieve success despite their fractious tendencies. Take Conor McGregor for example, a fighter whose sheer will to be the best trumps his egotistical, at times, childish mentality. Also, footballer Luis Suarez has emerged from three separate biting incidents and is still regarded as one of the most talented, and most successful footballers on the planet. These are examples of sportsmen who don’t allow their attitude and petulance to overpower their will to succeed, and that is where the key lies for Nick Kyrgios. Ability trumps all else when it comes to sport, and for Kyrgios it is a case of him choosing to realise his ability rather than waiting for it to carry him through.
Unfortunately for the Japan Open winner, he has too often allowed his own inflated self-worth get the better of him, in a sport where the cool, hardened professionals are the ones that achieve the most success – those who leave their emotions aside when they enter the court and do not allow their inner frustrations to seep through their steely facade. Kyrgios is a victim of the changing face of sport, where the professionals’ every move are widely documented to the general public, meaning those whose natures are least outlandish are the ones who invariably succeed.
Undoubtedly, Nick Kyrgios has the skillset to become a world class tennis player – he has shown that by winning three titles this year. However, the Australian must not allow his arrogance to drown out his talent, or he risks being remembered as the angry Australian who argued with fans, rather than the excellent tennis player he has the potential to be.