Tough love shows ATP care

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Tough Love: Kyrgios

The ATP’s decision to fine Nick Kyrgios an additional $25,000 and suspend him for eight tournament weeks – with the possibility of getting it reduced to three if he seeks help from a psychologist – has been met with mixed reactions from the public.

Some feel it is too lenient, others think it’s fair, while the Kyrgios loyalists find it harsh.

The ATP found Kyrgios to have committed the player major offense ‘Conduct Contrary to the Integrity of the Game’ which according to the 2016 Rule Book includes, but is not limited to, “publicised comments that unreasonably attack or disparage any person or group of people, a tournament, sponsor, player, official or the ATP”. It also includes any public comments that “will harm the reputation or financial best interests of a tournament, player, sponsor, official or the ATP are expressly covered by this section”.

Kyrgios did lash out at a spectator, telling him to “shut up” and later said he didn’t owe spectators anything. “If you don’t like it, I didn’t ask you to come watch. Just leave,” he added in his post-match press conference.

Discouraging fans from turning up to a tournament would harm the financial best interests of that event.

Another part of the rule says that same code is violated if a player “has at any time behaved in a manner severely damaging to the reputation of the sport”.

Kyrgios tanking during that match against Mischa Zverev in Shanghai is damaging to the reputation of tennis because it simply makes a mockery out of the competition and it tells fans and broadcasters that they will pay for tickets, or TV rights, of a tennis match, but might not get a contest where both players are trying hard to win it. It is why there is a Best Efforts provision in the ATP Code of Conduct.

The rules say that someone who has committed Conduct Contrary to the Integrity of the Game can be fined up to $100,000 and suspended for up to three years. Considering Kyrgios got $25,000 (added to the $16,500 he was sanctioned earlier) and a maximum of eight tournament weeks, it is obvious the ATP’s decision was quite reasonable.

Is it too lenient? I think not. The core of all this is that Kyrgios needs help.

The 21-year-old Aussie is not consistently a “bad boy” the way he has been painted in the media. Between the tantrums and the controversies, he is a talented guy who is respectful to his peers (the Stan Wawrinka/Donna Vekic incident being an obvious terrible and extreme exception), is kind to his fans, and struggles deeply with his day-to-day life on the tennis tour, admitting to the fact that he is not in love with the sport and often questions his existence in it.

With every Kyrgios high, comes a few lows in tow, and he clearly cannot stop it from happening all on his own.

The constant attack from the court of public opinion has continued to make matters worse as well. People are entitled to have their own opinions, but imagine being Kyrgios – a young man who is obviously dealing with a lot more than what meets the eye, someone who exhibits radical mood swings, trying to handle it all while in the spotlight and while competing in a harsh sport like tennis.

He tends to react poorly when attacked by the public or the media. Being sanctioned by the ATP however is what should have been happening all along, with respect to any Code of Conduct violations he may have committed.

These ATP sanctions are actually a good thing, especially that wise condition that says he can get his suspension cut if he seeks the help of a psychologist.

At the end of the day, the goal of punishment isn’t just to teach someone a lesson, or retaliate against a specific behaviour, it is about trying to make a real difference in that person, and helping them improve for the better. Urging Kyrgios to speak to a psychologist shows the ATP actually cares.

Whether it will be effective or not remains to be seen but for now, given the magnitude of what he did in Shanghai and the manner in which he has done it, which reflects how mentally fragile he seems to be at the moment, it seems like the right way to go.

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