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.
Andy Murray claimed the title at the China Open on Sunday, taking a step toward unseating world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, as Agnieszka Radwanska won her second Beijing crown.
Both romped to victory in straight sets on a chilly night in the Chinese capital, neither of them having dropped a set in the tournament.
Murray’s 6-4, 7-6 (2) win over unseeded Grigor Dimitrov is his fifth title of the year and 40th of his career, while third-ranked Radwanska sealed her win 6-4, 6-2 over Briton Johanna Konta with an ace.
The Scot’s victory moves him within 1,555 points of Djokovic in the ATP Race to London, with the chance of taking the top spot by year-end.
“It was really cold tonight. When we came off the court, we checked, and it said it was six degrees. You wouldn’t have played in many colder temperatures than that,” said Murray. “So when the court’s that cold, the court surface, the ball bounces much lower, and the balls don’t heat up, so they feel almost flat at times. It wasn’t easy.
“But the level of tennis I think, in my opinion, was much better than the match we played a few weeks ago at the US Open. It was probably my best match of the week, I think.”
Murray broke Dimitrov’s serve in the opening game of the match, putting the Bulgarian on the defensive as he made 21 unforced errors in the opening set.
In the second, both held their serve through the first four games until Murray broke Dimitrov at 3-2. It looked like the Scot would serve for the championship but Dimitrov – who beat Rafael Nadal en route to the final – won the next 11 points, breaking Murray to love.
Pushed to a tiebreak, the three-time grand slam champion immediately seized back control, storming through the decider to claim his first title in Beijing.
Dimitrov had received a free pass through the semi-finals after Canadian Milos Raonic pulled out with an ankle injury, but was left overwhelmed by the Scot.
“I just didn’t feel that I had another gear,” Dimitrov said after the match. “Andy’s fighting pretty much every single point.”
Radwanska’s victory was the 20th of her career and she has now won her last six consecutive finals.
“Experience, it’s a lot. I mean, it’s one of the most important thing going to the final. I remember my first final. A lot of nerves. I was really stressed,” said Radwanska. “But I think when you played a couple of big ones, you go for the final like a normal match. I think this kind of feeling, it’s just helping you.
“I was relaxed pretty much from the beginning. I didn’t really feel any pressure. That’s why I could win that match in two sets.”
There was more on the line for Konta, 25, who was making a bid in the Chinese capital for what would have been her biggest title to date.
Konta is also still chasing a place in her maiden WTA Finals, where Radwanska is the defending champion and has already qualified. The top eight players in the Road to Singapore leaderboard make it to the event.
Konta is currently in at No. 8 but could be nudged out by Dominika Cibulkova, who is just 10 points behind her.
Konta is playing in Hong Kong next week, while Cibulkova, Garbine Muguruza and Madison Keys are playing in Linz, as they all hope to secure one of the last remaining three available qualification spots.
Johanna Konta became the first British player in 32 years to break into the WTA top-10 after reaching the Beijing final with a hard-fought 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4 victory over Madison Keys Saturday.
The 25-year-old was ranked as low as 147 in the world just 16 months ago but has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past year to become the first British woman in the top-10 since Jo Durie in 1984.
“I know I’ve achieved something good whenever I’m mentioned in the same sentence as her,” Konta said of Durie yesterday at the China Open.
The 56-year-old Durie sent out a tweet to congratulate Konta.
Konta claimed her seventh victory of the season over a top-10 opponent when she took out the ninth-ranked Keys in a high-quality affair that lasted two hours and 35 minutes.
The Sydney-born Brit faces third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in Sunday’s final where she hopes to capture her second title of the year and first at a Premier Mandatory event.
While hitting the top-10 milestone is a proud achievement for Konta, she insists she is more focused on trying to win today’s final rather than celebrating her rise in the rankings.
“It’s pretty cool. But, yeah – actually I don’t know. I don’t know. I think because I’m so immersed in this tournament still, it’s obviously something that’s really humbling and really nice to hear. But, you know, I work my hardest to be able to go into the latter stages of every tournament I play,” said Konta, who is just the fourth British woman to be ranked in the top-10, ever since the ranking system was introduced in 1975.
“To be able to play on the Sunday here, I think that’s what I’m most looking forward to. Yeah, really giving my best tomorrow and see where that takes me.”
There was a lot on the line for both Konta and Keys in yesterday’s semi-final with both of them looking to lock down a qualification spot in the WTA Finals in Singapore – the elite season finale where the year’s top eight players will compete.
Keys has moved up to the No7 spot in the Road to Singapore leaderboard while Konta has rocketed up three spots to the No8 position by virtue of reaching the Beijing final. She could move up to No6 in the race should she triumph today.
On her part, Keys rued her missed opportunities and has accepted a wildcard into the Linz tournament to try and secure qualification for Singapore. Keys committed 47 unforced errors against Konta, a day after she ended Petra Kvitova’s eight-match winning streak with a dazzling performance.
“I don’t think I played overly well today. I think I had a lot of chances. I don’t think I converted well. You know, all props to her. She played well. She made it tough to get into the match,” said Keys of Konta’s performance.
Later in the day, Radwanska moved into the final with a 7-6 (3), 6-3 victory against Ukrainian No16 seed Elina Svitolina, who had upset world No1 Angelique Kerber earlier in the week.
Radwanska is gunning for a third career Premier Mandatory title having previously won Beijing in 2011 and Miami in 2012.
The 27-year-old Pole has already qualified to Singapore, where she is the defending champion.
Radwanska beat Konta in their only previous meeting, in Cincinnati two months ago, but it was a tough three-setter.
“She’s really playing fast from the bounce. You don’t have much time. Everything is going pretty much fast and flat. She’s not giving any time to think or run. Very aggressive player with really good serve,” said Radwanska.