'Showman' Nick Kyrgios the latest polarizing bad boy of Australian sport
Updated: 2015-07-03 11:36
CANBERRA -- Nick Kyrgios, the "wild child" of Australian tennis, is the latest in a long line of Australian sports stars who have polarized opinion with their extreme behavior.
Nick Kyrgios of Australia talks during his match against Juan Monaco of Argentina at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, July 1, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]
The shaven-headed, diamond earing-encrusted Kyrgios, who has shot to No. 29 in the world on the back of a huge first serve and all-round power game, is loud, brash, opinionated and controversial. He's also loved and loathed in equal measure.
"I like entertaining on the court," the 20-year-old said recently, in defense of his antics. "I'm someone who wants to make the crowd like what they see and I don't think there's anything wrong with that."
The best and worst of Kyrgios have been on full show during his first two matches at Wimbledon this week (both won, incidentally, in straight sets), where he has twice upbraided chair umpires and, at one stage, even threatened to go on strike and stop playing.
In his opening match against Argentine Diego Schwartzman, Kyrgios seemed to yell "dirty scum" at well-respected chair umpire Mohammed Lahyani after a shot was incorrectly called out.
But Kyrgios claimed he was cursing himself. "I wasn't referring to the ref at all there," he said after the match. "Yeah, I mean, it was towards myself."
Asked why he would direct such an insult at himself, Kyrgios said: "Cause, I can."
In his second-round match, he again tussled with the chair umpire. This time, it was Ali Nili on the receiving end of a Kyrgios tantrum.
The Australian was reported for swearing by a linesman, and when Nili informed Kyrgios that he was being warned, Kyrgios, instead of getting on with the match, again chose to make a scene.
"Is that a threat? Is that a threat?," the player shouted.
"Does it feel good to be in the chair up there? Does it feel strong to be up there?"
Tennis, considered a genteel game, has produced combustible characters such as John McEnroe and Jeff Tarango, but until the turn of the century, Australian players had generally been known for their sporting and gracious on-court behavior.
Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and even Patrick Rafter all set a glowing example for the modern Australian tennis player, and were loved by the public because of it.
But, urged on by a group of Australian supporters known as the Fanatics who themselves regularly stand accused of boorish and " bogan" behavior Kyrgios ventures into territory his predecessors would never have gone.
Back in Australia, even the sports-loving public has found it difficult to embrace the Canberra native, embodying as he does so many of the traits associated with the "ugly Australian" sports stars.
Many Australians just want the kid to play. As Fairfax Media journalist Peter FitzSimons said about Lleyton Hewitt more than a decade ago, Australians crave a successful player, they just also want humility.
He reiterated the same message in a column this week, though this time, aimed squarely at Kyrgios.
"Being rude to ball boys who don't bring you the towel quick enough? Mate, you're Australian. We don't do that," he wrote of Kyrgios this week.
It isn't a new phenomenon, however. The Australian public has been starved of a positive role model, particularly in tennis, for years.
Before Kyrgios, it was Bernard Tomic who was the bad boy of Australian tennis. His antics included falling into hot water with authorities for failing to stop at a police checkpoint in his bright orange BMW M3.
He didn't endear himself to the public when tennis writer Will Swanton asked him a question at a post-match press conference.
During a match against Andy Roddick, commentator John McEnroe accused Tomic of tanking. In response to Swanton's question about McEnroe's comments, Tomic shot the messenger.
"What's your name? I'll remember ya!," he said in 2012.
At the Australian Open earlier this year, Kyrgios turned to a member of the crowd who had absent-mindedly left his phone on and shouted: "Turn off your f***ing phone".
Lleyton Hewitt, early in his career, was opinionated, loud- mouthed and often crass an approach which drew criticism from media and fans alike, though he was able to turn it around and gain respect from the tennis public due to his dogged approach and positive attitude.
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