Tennis needs to be a bit more like Nick Kyrgios to thrive

Being a Nick Kyrgios fan is a little like being a climate change denier. You’re always looking for evidence that the prevailing narrative – which states that Kyrgios is an oversized toddler with anger issues – is inaccurate. The evidence, though, is usually against you.

I found myself in the same awkward position this week, after Kyrgios suffered a game penalty against Jannik Sinner and left the court with a volley of abuse at chair umpire Carlos Bernardes.

Nick Kyrgios with his broken racquet in Miami.Credit:Getty Images

Yes, if we wanted to quibble, we could question whether Bernardes timed his first major intervention correctly. The point penalty at 3-5 in the first-set tie-break was heavy-handed. It delivered three set points to Sinner and took the steam out of a thrilling contest, all because of a sarcastic and not even X-rated comment that Kyrgios made to his friend Matt Reid at the side of the court.

In the bigger picture, though, Kyrgios was out of control. He started chuntering about the speed of the court within a few minutes, and escalated from there. Despite having told reporters at the weekend that he was “at peace on and off the court,” he was highly sensitive to any ill-timed noises from the crowd. Which is a problem, especially when he enjoys whipping those same fans up to a high pitch of excitement.

At 26 years old, Kyrgios still feels alien to tennis culture – which remains a starchy combination of cucumber sandwiches and Victorian values. With his braggadocio and his snark, he behaves more like a boxer or a wrestler. And he stands out all the more because everyone else is so determined to conform.

What makes his meltdowns especially frustrating is that tennis desperately needs more of Kyrgios’ edginess, his charisma. Sinner – whose name belies his spotless self-control – is a classic example of a talented ball-basher who inhabits a bubble of internalised concentration. He is careful not to waste any energy in interactions with the crowd, in unnecessary comments, or in feuds with other players. As a result, he is feted within the tennis bubble and completely unknown outside it.

If tennis is going to thrive in the post-Federer, post-Nadal, post-Serena era, it needs to be a bit more Kyrgios. It needs more provocation and more edge, because the dominant mode – politeness, humility, conservatism – leaves us with little but forehands and backhands to talk about. And, as any Netflix executive will tell you, personality is what sells sport.

Just to clarify, I said that tennis needs to be a bit more Kyrgios, not to go the full racquet smash. He could be the perfect role model for the next generation of players. But only if he turned the dial down, to something like five out of 10. At the moment, it’s all rather too much.

The Telegraph, London

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