ROME, May 16, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
One man remained firmly in focus across the casualty of action on the rain-marred Wednesday and doubling up of tennis action on Thursday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. It was Nick Kyrgios.
The 24-year-old Aussie first created a ruckus with a controversy-stirring interview on the No Challenges Remaining (NCR) podcast hosted by New York Times tennis correspondent Ben Rothenberg. Over the course of the near-49-minute podcast, Kyrgios went about disbursing his opinion of some of his fellow professionals on the ATP Tour – including the Big Three of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal – and there were others, too.
From Federer, to Djokovic – who, according to him, “has a sick obsession with wanting to be liked” – to Nadal – whom he referred to as “super salty” – to Andy Murray whose head-to-head against Djokovic he felt was undeserving of his calibre, and to Fernando Verdasco – “the most arrogant person ever” – the Australian went on a roll thereby fulfilling the theme of the podcast, of letting himself loose. Kyrgios did not spare Toni Nadal either, whose remarks about his lack of education made during the Mexican Open in Acapulco this year, as though he was still smarting about those.
Perhaps, what Kyrgios forgot in the aftermath of the interview was that he still had some professional obligations to live up to, come Thursday. And that, aside from his descriptiveness of his rivals’ on-court behaviour away from the court, it would be his behaviour – and performance – which would be scrutinised. Or maybe, Kyrgios knew fully well what was to come the following day and did not care much about it. After all, his reputation had been built on contrariness – on doing the opposite of what everyone expected him to do.
Against Casper Ruud on Thursday, Kyrgios did just that. He came up with his usual bunch of tomfoolery, lost the opening set 6-3, won the second set in the tie-break 7-6(5) and then, presented his inexplicable aggravation in the third set. At one-all, Kyrgios shouted expletives at the gathered spectators, some of whom were ostensibly walking as he was about to serve for which he received a game penalty from the chair umpire. Seemingly angrier after this, he smashed his racquet and then threw the chair on the court successively. And, then, in the time it took for the match referee to come to the court – after being called by the umpire – Kyrgios had packed his bags, shaken hands with Ruud and the umpire and walked off the court, as though he was defaulting himself before the verdict could be pronounced against him.
Bad Behaviour or Shades of Eccentricity
In isolation, judging by his behaviour alone, Kyrgios’ action made for bad viewing. But, the infamy of his deed magnifies significantly when compared his result to that of the players about whom he spoke. Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Verdasco were playing two matches: the second and third round. And while each player in the troika, more commonly known as the Big Three, won his match easily in straight sets, Verdasco upset the fifth seed Dominic Thiem in three sets to advance to the round-of-16.
The World No. 36’s words came to naught. Not because of what these other players did but because of what Kyrgios was not able to do on the one place where it mattered the most. Djokovic, Nadal and Verdasco may have their quirks, who does not but that they are able to let their results speak for them instead of verbally ranting at others says a lot about their maturity and depth as players. At the same time, it also reflects that for all the talent Kyrgios may possess, he does not have the patience or the persistence to see through distractions: both internal and external. More importantly, this has become a repetitive way of working for Kyrgios who is overly carefree rather than being careful when and where he needs to be.
Will Punitive Action Help?
With this needing to be pored over, the subject and scale of punishment being meted out to Kyrgios also needs to be introspected upon.
Kyrgios has had been suspended from the sport for tanking in a match (Shanghai Masters, 2016). Moreover, despite all recommended action (that of consulting a sports psychologist) he has continued to go about his ways, content to committing half-heartedly as and when it pleases him. As such, the question that needs to be asked is this: does Kyrgios really care about what comes his way? To that end, does he respect himself to care about improving his behaviour on the court?
Because, in all this time, it is seemingly evident that Kyrgios does not. So, if a person does not have enough self-respect, how would any behavioural restoration help? Especially, if the person concerned is indifferent, whether he receives it or not.