It is a curious thing, being an outrageously talented Australian tennis player. It brings with it puerility, prima donna tantrums, and sometimes inexcusably bad behaviour. It creates controversy, causes distractions, sometimes delights and often exasperates. Very often, it results in almost criminal profligacy of natural talent, leaving wistfulness, anger and a feeling of what-might-have-been in its wake.
It entertains generously, of course, but often frustrates in equal measure. It gave us Pat Cash and Pat Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic, and now, Nick Kyrgios.
This latest product, hot off the temperamental Australian conveyer belt, has already had quite the career, his talent with a tennis racquet in his hand seemingly surpassed only by his penchant for stirring controversy of the sort tennis simply isn’t used to.
This is a particularly sanitised era for the sport, having lived through a decade of the likes of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, with whom the idea of a controversy was the odd ill-judged remark in a post-match press conference. Musings about the promiscuity of an opponent’s partner certainly did not dominate any conversations at changeovers. Maybe it was a more conservative time.
But then again; maybe not. Players with fiery temperaments have been around longer than Sue Barker’s been doing the trophy ceremony at Wimbledon. John McEnroe’s temper tantrums are the stuff of legend, and he must be the only person to have won seven Grand Slams and not be best known for it. His behaviour was considered so particularly objectionable by the powers that be at Wimbledon he was refused the customary honorary membership to the All England Club awarded to the winner of the men’s singles title. Who says Wimbledon can’t ever break with tradition?
Seven Grand Slams, however. That’s the only thing in that last paragraph you (and Nick Kyrgios) really need to know about the volatile American. This is someone who, like Kyrgios, struggled with keeping his cool, got into spats with umpires, referees, organisers and the crowd.
Here's John McEnroe's scathing attack on Nick Kyrgios the other night pic.twitter.com/bzAsCC6kyo— James Franco (@beaniash) September 4, 2016
But what separates the pair is McEnroe had enough emotionally left over to be able to channel that anger towards his tennis, show restraint when needed, and memorably, be serious. It is also why McEnroe seems to be so personally interested in Kyrgios’s fortunes, and has waxed lyrical about the 21-year-old’s talent time and again.
On Saturday, however, as Kyrgios found himself shaking hands at the net with Ilya Marchenko after retiring midway during the pair’s third round match at the US Open, the great American ripped loose.
“Nick Kyrgios, if you don’t want to be a professional tennis player, do something else,” McEnroe blasted. “He’s hurt because he’s not training enough.” The anguish in McEnroe’s voice seemed to come from an appreciation of just how much talent Kyrgios seemed to be throwing away, and recognition that he himself wasn’t too different at that tender age. It really doesn’t take much to interpret the depth and intensity of McEnroe’s outrage as respect for the Australian’s natural ability.
However, the nature of McEnroe’s remarks makes a digression far too tempting to ignore, and temptations, as Oscar Wilde said, are best yielded to. Kyrgios may actually not be short of options if he were to take up McEnroe’s challenge and quit the sport altogether. Here are the most viable.
A BASKETBALL PLAYER
By far the best alternative, Kyrgios has already admitted in an interview that he “didn’t really like tennis that much, but I just love basketball,” going on to say he still thought he could pursue a basketball career at some point in the future. He’s even in luck, there’s an opening at Los Angeles Lakers these days, after some guy called Kobe Bryant retired. Given the Lakers’ recent form, they would probably take him.
A FITNESS TRAINER
Have you seen pictures of Nick Kyrgios as a 13-year old? Here you go, treat yourself! This bloke can really motivate people to get more active and lose some weight. That sort of dedication and self-discipline could be of real use in a professional sport. Wonder if this chubby teen ever took one up?
We’ve seen more diamond earrings and funky haircuts from Kyrgios than performances befitting the Australian’s talent. Maybe those talents are best on a catwalk, where they might perhaps be more appreciated than, say, Centre Court at Wimbledon. Also, Nick’s used to people yelling at him to ‘give us your best shot’.
A TOP TENNIS PLAYER
Here’s a brainwave, perhaps Kyrgios could leave the petulance aside, toughen up mentally, and start acting his age. He could develop more respect for his opponents, the umpires, the crowd, and the sport. He could appreciate how many people would kill to have his gifts, and develop a steely determination of the kind McEnroe had. Maybe he could even learn to love the sport he can play so well. We can but hope.