Aussies’ Wim­ble­don dou­ble fault

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - UP -

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

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