Kyrgios steps up to be an unlikely hero
‘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)