If a six feet four inches tall man does not understand that throwing down a racquet on a hard court from his height would cause it to bounce and slide, and break it into small pieces which might fly at random angles, he is either being dishonest or is plain stupid. Nick Kyrgios did not just smash his racquet, he threw it in utter disgust with the obvious knowledge that it shall travel. It had fallen one meter away from his feet. Physical laws would have had to alter themselves for the poor racquet to have not become a DFO (Dangerous Flying Object). To argue that Nick did not intend to hit anyone is as lame as the one that would apply in case of a terrorist entering the court-side and spraying bullets with joyous abandon, but at no one in particular.
In fact, Nick’s action was rather more likely to cause grievous harm than Sascha Zverev’s at Acapulco. The racquet was in Sascha’s hand, and he knew exactly where he was hitting (that is, at the chair) and why! Now, a racquet in hand can be guided by intent, but a lose projectile is on its own. Sascha had made his intent known – that of not wanting to hit anyone with a purpose to cause injury, but on the court and at the chair to express his annoyance. He had chosen to vent out his frustration, and intimidate the officials in process – quite a disgusting way to express oneself, I must add.
Nick’s motives, though, remain clouded. His match with Rafa had gotten over, the rivals had already shaken hands. Ball boys, officials and spectators might have relaxed a bit, after three hours of frenetic tennis. Fortunately, the ball boy in the line of fire was alert. He ducked the incoming missile, else one shudders to think what might have happened. Nick argues, rather declares, that he did not mean anyone harm, but he was never in the position to stop harm from coming the ballboy’s way. Despite being perfunctorily apologetic, Nick tried to evade responsibility for what happened and whatever could have.
It does not look likely that Nick would be punished for this misdemeanour. He has anyway made an exit, so he cannot be defaulted from the tournament. Rafael Nadal has rightly called for stricter action in such cases, else something serious might soon unfold. Nick has tried to make amends by reaching out to the ballboy. He has apologized and gifted him a racquet. This is his standard operating procedure. Even at the Australian Open, Nick had slammed a dead ball into the stands, injuring a kid. He was quick to say sorry and explain that he had meant no harm. He had shaken hands with the victim and offered him a racquet as a sort of peace offering. The AO authorities, quite shaken after the ‘Djokovic Deportation’, chose to look the other way, and let Nick walk scot-free. Turning a blind eye once makes the perp bolder.
Even Novak Djokovic had no intention of murdering the lineswoman at the US Open in 2020. The lady in question was not even injured. But he was promptly issued marching orders. With Nick, it is somewhat different. He has always been handled with velvet gloves, especially by Tennis Australia. He sells himself as the crowd-puller of contemporary tennis. He frames his pitch cleverly- besides Big 3, who? After Big 3, who? There is no gainsaying that Kyrgios is a star attraction, even his podcasts fetch good traffic. Despite reaching just one Grand Slam quarter-final in his career so far, he is considered an exciting talent. At 26, many still expect him to smarten up his act and win some laurels. He himself doesn’t harbour any such hopes. He just wants to be remembered for playing scintillating tennis and making wisecracks. His under-armed potshots at Djokovic’s quest for love made for spicy tennis gossip. Earlier this year, when the Serbian was detained by the Australian authorities, Nick unexpectedly stood up for him, and surprised the tennis world.
Nick has taken the role of entertaining the audience rather too seriously. Perhaps he is trying to become the modern Mansour Bahrami. In the recently concluded Australian Open, Kyrgios played an intriguing second round match against Daniil Medvedev, which he lost in four sets. Along with playing attacking tennis, he felt obliged to rouse the crowds by fist-pumping, roaring and siuu’ing. Even his celebrations came across as half-hearted. He argued with the chair umpire after being handed a time code violation, explaining that he had to rush for the towels and back because of all the sweating, and that took forever. But the whole show felt contrived, the lines seemed rehersed. Nick was playing a role, and he had become a caricature of himself.
It was in the doubles that Nick caused pandemonium. Agreed that his boyzone with Kokkinakis generated a lot of eyeballs for doubles, and even jam-packed the stadiums, but the duo did upset many of their opponents with their juvenile conduct. The coach and the physical trainer of the top Croat pair, Mektic and Pavic, were so upset by the apparent disrespect shown the Aussies that they threatened to wrestle with them in the changing room. Nick referred to Max Purcell, a fellow Aussie and his opponent in the final, as a donut, and his serve and volley game as more boring than watching paint dry. Max had called out the duo’s behaviour as disrespectful towards tennis and their opponents. Nick even boasted that he enjoyed higher ratings than any other Aussie player, quite glossing over the fact that Ash Berty had won the women’s singles at Melbourne.
That Nick is casual, mercurial yet gifted is universally accepted. That he has committed fan following, who love him for his antics as much as his tennis is also true. On his day, Nick can compete with the very best, and bring anyone down. But he has battled self-doubts, loneliness, depression and suicidal thoughts, and come out as a survivor. He has admitted that he indulged in alcohol, drugs and caused self-harm, but has now turned corner. He says he wants to bring joy back into the cut-throat, gruelling world of professional tennis. If he is sincere about what he says, Nick can start by being a tad humble, and being careful in how he expresses his joy and anger on court.
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