By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Perhaps, in years to come, tennis fans will yearn for the days of “characters like Nick Kyrgios”, just as they do for John McEnroe, the one-time Superbrat everyone loved to hate who is now embraced as a lovable rogue from the golden age.
Maybe the Australian will publish an autobiography titled “Bothered” (as in not), just as McEnroe did with “Serious” (as in “you cannot be”, his most famous outburst of all).
The main difference between the two, of course, is that McEnroe won titles – 77 of them, including seven Grand Slam singles crowns, and loved the game.
Kyrgios would appear to have more in common with Andre Agassi, who also achieved greatness on court despite, he later revealed in his autobiography, hating almost every minute of his career.
Kyrgios should be challenging the dominance of the Big Three. His head-to-head record against them is impressive (2-0 against Novak Djokovic, 3-3 against Rafa Nadal, but 1-5 against Roger Federer) and it seems to be generally accepted that he has the talent to win Grand Slams.
The problem appears to be that Kyrgios doesn’t seem to care about it and has never gone beyond the quarter-finals in a major.
Still only 24, his career is littered with fines and penalties, particularly for “tanking” – not trying – which he often does when anything gets under his skin. He serves under-arm, argues with and abuses officials and fans, and shows scant respect for opponents.
In a recent interview he ripped into Djokovic (“super player” but with a “sick obsession with wanting to be liked”) and Nadal (“super salty” and “gracious only when he wins”).
He says he does not care about fans when he tanks or is ejected from a tournament as he was at this year’s Italian Open for throwing a chair.
He boasts of the millions he has in the bank and uses those riches to justify not needing to try. He pulled out of this year’s French Open citing illness, days after saying the tournament “absolutely sucks”.
At Queens last week he accused a line judge of “rigging the game” and when warned by the umpire, told him “your hat looks ridiculous”. He also berated himself out loud courtside for preparing for his match by playing computer games until 3am.
All this and much more takes place in between and alongside some of the most sublime tennis produced by anyone on the circuit.
Which, of course, makes him box office.
“After the top few guys I’m guessing the fourth or fifth most desirable guy to watch is him,” McEnroe said of the 43rd-ranked Australian.
McEnroe also said, however, that he might one day rue wasting his talent.
“We all think about that,” said the American. “What could I have done?, myself included. It would be hard to believe he wouldn’t think that, but he seems not to care what people think. It takes some guts to put yourself out there.”
Unseeded at Wimbledon, Kyrgios will be the classic “dangerous floater” none of the big guns want to meet early and he could make a great Centre Court attraction.
Alternatively he could be kicking up a storm on a distant outside court.
Wherever and whoever he plays, however, the broadcasters will be on standby and there will not be an empty seat in the stands.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)