It was his third match at Wimbledon in five days, and the third time Nick Kyrgios had attracted the attention of the umpire for the wrong reasons.
The rangy Australian 20-year-old was a set into his third-round victory over number seven seed Milos Raonic on Friday, when he missed a break point, span around in a rage, and flung his racket so forcefully into the grass that it bounced several metres into the terraces, narrowly missing a spectator – an incident for which he received a formal warning, or “code violation”, from the umpire.
Two days earlier, Kyrgios had a stand-up row with a different match umpire after being reported by a linesman for muttering expletives. That came after his opening match on Monday, during which he received another code violation after refusing to play on after disputing a line call. The subsequent mutter, “dirty scum”, had not been directed at the chair, he said later.
Was he concerned, an Australian journalist asked the player shortly after Friday’s match, that his behaviour was attracting a lot of criticism back home? Kyrgios shrugged. “No.” Well, what was his view of those who disapproved of him? “I don’t care.”
There are tennis players with attitude – and then there is Nick Kyrgios. The player burst on to the world stage this time last year when, as a wild-card entrant making his Wimbledon debut, he knocked out the then world number one Rafael Nadal in the first round and steamrollered his way as far as the quarter finals.
Blessed with a variety of weapons, chief among them an audacious serve, his talent is not in question. “I think he is without a doubt one of the most dangerous players in the draw,” John McEnroe said after his match on Monday. “He is, to me, going to win majors.”
But, as one tennis writer from the Sydney Morning Herald put it earlier this week, “The show is starting to wear a little thin. I’m starting to feel like Nick Kyrgios is – and there’s no delicate way of putting this – a bit of a tool.”
This is not the first tournament in which the player – who shaves a zigzag into his hair and wears oversized diamond studs in his ears – has provoked controversy.
During last year’s US Open he found himself close to being disqualified after picking up three code violations in one match for swearing and smashing the ball out of the court in frustration. He could have suffered the same fate in January’s Australian Open, after again attracting censure for swearing at fans (he went on to reach the quarter finals before an encounter with Andy Murray proved a step too far).
But, for everyone who may disapprove of his behaviour, there are many more who welcome the emergence in world tennis of a player as colourful as Kyrgios.
While he may win censure from umpires, the player is often wildly entertaining on court, chatting and joking with spectators. Frequently during his defeat of Raonic, met with a line call he didn’t like, he would gawp at the linesman in mock shock, and drop his racquet and ball where he stood, drawing inevitable laughter. By the end of the match, with the help of vocal Australian fans in the crowd, many of the impartial crowd were on his side.
“People are starting to get on him and to say they don’t like the way he’s cut his hair and he’s talking too much,” added McEnroe, “but the truth is, he’s a breath of fresh air for the game.”
Or, as the former Wimbledon champion Andy Roddick told the New York Times about Kyrgios’s behaviour: “Would I want my child to do it? Maybe not. But would I watch it? I probably would.”
Asked if he felt tennis would benefit from a few more characters, as in the days of McEnroe, Ilie Nastase and Andre Agassi, Kyrgios said yesterday: “Yeah, I guess so. I like to watch entertaining tennis. I’m not the biggest believer in saying nothing out there or being a robot. I feel you should express yourself. You know – it’s a sport.”
Tennis’s new bad boy was born in Canberra in 1995, the son of a Greek-born tradesman father and a mother who was born as a princess in Malaysia but dropped her royal title when she moved to Australia as a child.
An NBA obsessive, the 6ft 4in Kyrgios has said he turned to professional tennis under pressure from his parents.
“I was all for basketball and I made the decision to play tennis. I got pushed by my parents and to this day I can still say I don’t love the sport. If it’s NBA on one channel and a tennis tournament on the other, I’m watching NBA, 100 per cent.”
That may be almost heretical in the obsessive world of tennis, but there are plenty who are rooting for Kyrgios.
After the legendary coach Nick Bolletieri – mentor to Agassi, Monica Seles and many others – tweeted his admiration earlier this year, the Australian replied, “please let me know where I can improve”.
This week, Bolletieri did just that, sending a lengthy letter in which he said Kyrgios could be one of the world’s top players. “You are also a ‘character’ and have a very engaging personality on the tennis court ... The game needs ‘characters’. That being said, you must also be able to maintain discipline and avoid negativity.”
But if Kyrgios appreciated the American’s detailed input, he couldn’t quite find it in himself to be grateful – when asked about the letter after his match, he said with a shrug: “I didn’t really read it in much detail.”
John Newcombe, three-time Wimbledon champion: “Nick is an exceptional talent and he doesn’t beat to the same drum as everyone else – he’s a real individual. Some media people will take the little negative things and build them into big issues, rather than looking at more positive things, which far outweigh the negative things.”
Todd Woodbridge, nine-time Wimbledon doubles champion: “How you are going to be remembered at 19 or 20 is irrelevant. He is going to mature and he is going to grow and realise some of the things he’s done and said were not the right thing. There is so much focus on him at 20 and he has to learn to cope with that. He has people round him who can help him deal with it.”
Tim Henman, four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist: “Kyrgios is a performer, an entertainer and will go out and play the tennis he is capable of. He can beat anyone because he is seriously talented. He is a bit different and speaks his mind but the most important thing is that he doesn’t get distracted from what’s happening on the court.”
This article was written by Esther Addley, for theguardian.com on Friday 3rd July 2015 20.17 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010