Aussies’ Wimbledon double fault
This week we’ve heard a lot about tennis bad boys Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, but I reckon Australia’s last true Aussie tennis larrikin legend, Ken Fletcher, is way more interesting.
Apparently, Fletcher turned up to play the 1963 Grand Slam with Margaret Court (above), and she noticed he hadn’t shaved. As Fletcher’s old pal, writer Hugh Lunn, tells it: “Kenny felt his face and said, ‘Shaved, Margaret? I haven’t even been to bed. That German girl, I couldn’t get rid of her.’” Needless to say, they won the match. My, how times have changed in the world of competitive tennis.
Fletcher also rebelled, but with purpose and conviction. In the same year he defied an official ban not to play overseas in countries paying more generous fees. “We don’t live in bloody Moscow,” he said. “So I’m going.”
Fletcher, who passed away in 2006, played tennis for the love of the game and for the thrill of the chase. He was successful decades before the sport became corporatised, bringing with it big money and global fame for the top stars.
At a time when many of the young guns in tennis seem consumed by the pressures, the prize money and the scrutiny, it’s good to remember a simpler time where there was still room for real larrikins in the game.
Aussies want men and women who take their sport seriously, but don’t take themselves too seriously. We miss players like Fletcher, who thumb their nose at authority, make you laugh when you’re not meant to laugh, but still manage to give the game everything. In cricket there are larrikins galore. Think of Warnie pashing a wine glass and grabbing his girlfriend’s bum at Royal Ascot, sending irreverent texts and telling everyone the baked beans “just kicked in”.
Think of Merv Hughes, who’d help hundreds of people in Bay 13 warm up with him before a game, insured his moustache and had the nickname “Fruitfly”.
Like Fletcher, Hughes and Warne got away with it because they were first-rate sportsmen who delivered when it counted.
Turn to tennis, and all we seem to see are total brats who are too self-absorbed to play as well as they can — let alone show a sense of humour.
Nick Kyrgios, for instance, blamed “external bullshit” for his poor showing at Wimbledon. He was fined for being unsportsmanlike, muttered “dirty scum” and was accused of tanking.
He seemed to chide his interim coach (funnily enough, he hasn’t found anyone to do the job full-time) and picked a fight with an umpire over changing his socks.
Then there’s Bernard Tomic, who’s also been sacked from the Davis Cup team, accused of tanking, and been picked up more than once by police for speeding in his orange BMW.
This petulant pair come hot on the heels of Lleyton Hewitt, who, when younger, was well-known for calling match officials “spastics”, clashing with coaches, umpires and opponents, and dubbing the Australian public “stupid”.
What a conga-line. A roll-call of losers. A line-up of brats. They might win on the court (but not as often as they should) but they lose us on the sidelines.
Where’s the love for the game itself rather than just concern about their own performance?
Sure, players like Kyrgios and Tomic may have natural talent, but it’s hard to be inspired when they behave like this.
It’s not good enough for people to excuse such behaviour because such men are young, or under pressure or growing up in the spotlight.
We don’t want sports men and women to be perfect, but we do expect them to be good sports.
They should stand up to authority, and rail against stupid nanny-state rules ruining too many sports.
However, they should respect the people who are there to help, such as umpires, ball kids and officials.
And they shouldn’t blame anyone but themselves when they lose.
Above all, I wonder where the feeling of gratitude is these days? These stars are paid lots of money to travel the world playing the game they love.
Even at the peak of his career, Ken Fletcher had little fame and no spotlight (but lots of women, it seems).
After he retired, he was grateful to be paid even small amounts of money to play the game he loved.
It’s hard to imagine him behaving like Kyrgios and Tomic. No doubt he’d be appalled to see what his beloved game has become. Blog with Susie at susieobrien.com.au, Facebook.com/NewswithSuse and follow her on Twitter @susieob