Kyr­gios steps up to be an un­likely hero

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Daniel Schofield

‘Speedy re­cov­ery fel­las, but that’s what hap­pens when you dis­re­gard all the pro­to­cols’

Ev­ery cri­sis pro­duces its share of he­roes and vil­lains, many emerg­ing from the most un­ex­pected of quar­ters. Who would have pre­dicted 12 months ago that Nick Kyr­gios, the en­fant ter­ri­ble of ten­nis, would emerge as its voice of rea­son dur­ing the pan­demic?

A year ago at Wim­ble­don, Kyr­gios was pre­par­ing for his sec­ond-round match against Rafael Nadal by hang­ing out at the Dog & Fox pub in Wim­ble­don vil­lage un­til 11pm. The match it­self, a four-set de­feat, pro­duced a Kyr­gios full house of poor sports­man­ship: ha­rangu­ing um­pire Damien Du­mu­sois as “ter­ri­ble”, au­di­bly com­plain­ing about Nadal’s set-up time, spit­ting, un­der­arm serves and – the cherry on top – a fore­hand fired straight at the Spa­niard’s chest for which no apol­ogy was of­fered.

Nor was there any fur­ther post-match con­tri­tion. “Why would I apol­o­gise,” Kyr­gios said. “I don’t care. The dude has got how many slams? How much money in his bank ac­count? I think he can take a ball to the chest, bro. I’m not go­ing to apol­o­gise to him at all.”

His sta­tus as the sport’s bad boy in res­i­dence was con­firmed last Septem­ber when he re­ceived a £90,000 fine and sus­pended 16-week ban from the As­so­ci­a­tion of Ten­nis Pro­fes­sion­als for an im­pres­sive eight of­fences dur­ing a sec­ond-round de­feat by Karen Khachanov in Cincin­nati.

Like with many things in this world, how­ever, coro­n­avirus has flipped con­ven­tional wis­dom on its head. As some­one who has never had time for the niceties or con­ven­tions of ten­nis, Kyr­gios has used his plat­form on so­cial me­dia to fire a se­ries of shots tar­get­ing the stu­pid­ity and self­ish­ness of tour­na­ment or­gan­is­ers and play­ers as fe­ro­cious as his fore­hand.

First in his sights was the United States Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion for con­firm­ing the US Open would go ahead be­hind closed doors from Aug 31 de­spite the fact that New York was the worst-hit state for coro­n­avirus cases in the worst-hit coun­try in the world. The death toll in Queens, where the US Open is held, is the sec­ond-high­est for any county in the United States. Other play­ers have ex­pressed con­cerns, but few as point­edly as Kyr­gios, who also spear­headed fundrais­ing ef­forts for the wild­fires that dev­as­tated Aus­tralia ear­lier this year.

“Peo­ple that live in the US of course are push­ing the Open to go ahead – self­ish,” Kyr­gios posted on Twit­ter. “I’ll get my haz­mat suit ready for when I travel from Aus­tralia and then have to quar­an­tine for two weeks on my re­turn.”

That was just a warm-up act though, as he rounded on the stag­ing of No­vak Djokovic’s Adria Tour event in which four play­ers, in­clud­ing the world No 1, tested pos­i­tive for Covid-19. Sym­pa­thy was in short sup­ply as ev­i­dence emerged that so­cial dis­tanc­ing was com­pletely ig­nored, with play­ers pic­tured play­ing con­tact sports and danc­ing top­less to­gether in a night­club.

“Bone­headed de­ci­sion to go ahead with the ‘ex­hi­bi­tion’. Speedy re­cov­ery fel­las, but that’s what hap­pens when you dis­re­gard all pro­to­cols,” Kyr­gios posted. He con­tin­ued: “Don’t @ [men­tion] me for any­thing I’ve done that has been ‘ir­re­spon­si­ble’ or clas­si­fied as ‘stu­pid­ity’ – this takes the cake.”

Still he was not done. When Alexan­der Zverev, who promised to self-iso­late for two weeks after tak­ing part in the Adria Tour, was pic­tured ap­par­ently danc­ing in a night­club just six days later, Kyr­gios let rip at the Ger­man’s al­leged self­ish­ness. This tirade prompted Boris Becker to come to Zverev’s de­fence: “Don’t like no #rats! Any­body telling off fel­low sports­man/woman is no friend of mine!”

Ig­nor­ing the irony of a man who im­preg­nated a Rus­sian model in a restau­rant broom cup­board while his first wife was preg­nant call­ing some­one else a “rat”, Kyr­gios quickly cut the Ger­man down to size.

Djokovic, as my col­league Si­mon Briggs has re­peat­edly pointed out, has ex­punged any moral au­thor­ity he has as leader of the men’s tour. Other high-pro­file fig­ures have kept silent for fear of tread­ing on the wrong toes. There are a bun­dle of in­con­sis­ten­cies around Kyr­gios, too, not least if he par­tic­i­pates in an ex­hi­bi­tion tour­na­ment in Ber­lin, but at least he recog­nises the omerta of pro­fes­sional ten­nis is less im­por­tant than the great­est health pan­demic of the cen­tury. Maybe he is not the poster boy that ten­nis would like to have, but Kyr­gios is the hero it de­serves right now.

En­fant ter­ri­ble: Nick Kyr­gios has had nu­mer­ous run-ins with au­thor­ity and has now crit­i­cised Boris Becker (be­low)

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