Nasty Nick, the man who makes John McEnroe look tame: Love him or loathe him, Nick Kyrgios is a prodigious talent who could be going all the way to Wimbledon final, writes ROBERT HARDMAN
He can be a terrible loser. Over the weekend, he showed just what a terrible winner he can be, too. This is the man who absolutely loves to put the ‘wild’ into ‘wild card’.
Yet, love him or loathe him (and few sit anywhere in between), Nick Kyrgios is a prodigious talent who could be going all the way to Sunday’s final.
Despite some memorably stroppy moments by famous names over the years – most notably John McEnroe in 1981 – Saturday’s match saw repeated full-scale hissy fits by both players at the same time, on and off the court.
Today Australia’s Nick Kyrgios faces American Brandon Nakashima in the fourth round Pictured: Nick Kyrgios celebrates beating Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas during their men’s singles tennis match on the sixth day of Wimbledon
Tsitsipas became so rattled by Kyrgios’s behaviour (not least a mocking underarm serve) that, at one point, he whacked the ball into the crowd. It only just missed two spectators. The furious Tsitsipas also aimed a few shots at Kyrgios. Both players had shouting matches with the French umpire, Damien Dumusois.
Kyrgios was determined to land his opponent in as much trouble as possible. ‘Are you dumb?’ he yelled. ‘You’re a disgrace.’ It was all pretty rich coming from a player who, just two days earlier, had publicly humiliated a female official, calling her a ‘snitch’ for reporting him to the umpire in another match.
During Saturday’s spat, Kyrgios also told the umpire that he would unleash further abuse in his post-match press conference, a cowardly form of intimidation given officials do not have the luxury of interviews to settle scores after play has finished. Former British number one John Lloyd wrote in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday that Kyrgios should have been kicked out for making the game almost unplayable.
Dumusois was certainly having a bad evening (it was actually the poor man’s 43rd birthday). Yet Kyrgios’s moaning, carping and shouting were incessant, right up to the end of the four-set match. Afterwards, Tsitsipas accused his opponent of having ‘a very evil side’, adding: ‘He was probably a bully at school.’ He did, however, apologise for his own bad conduct on the court.
Not so Kyrgios. The next time you see another puerile explosion, however, try to remember that this man is 27 and has been a professional tennis player for nine years.
The Aussie tennis champ said: ‘My girlfriend deals with hate messages. My family deals with hate messages. I deal with hate messages,’ Pictured: Australia’s Nick Kyrgios with girlfriend Costeen Hatzi after practice
When asked earlier last week about his repeated abuse of match officials, he tried to justify it by saying he receives more social media abuse than they do. ‘My girlfriend deals with hate messages. My family deals with hate messages. I deal with hate messages,’ he wailed.
This is also the man who, after being caught spitting at fans last week, deployed the old bully-boy defence of claiming he was the one under attack. He alleged that there had been unspecified ‘racism’ from somewhere in the crowd.
So what is it that makes this angry man quite so angry? Born in the Australian capital, Canberra, he is the son of George Kyrgios, a decorator, and Norlaila, a computer analyst who is descended from Malaysian royalty. Through her grandfather, she is a cousin of the Oxford-educated Sultan of Pahang who, since 2019, has been king of Malaysia.
The couple have three children, including elder son Christos and daughter Halimah, 32, who was a contestant on The Voice Australia last year.
Nick Kyrgios argues with the umpire after Stefanos Tsitsipas hit a ball into the crowd during day six of Wimbledon
Young Nick attended a Roman Catholic high school until the age of 14, when he decided to focus on tennis, going on to win a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport.
Although he has said his favourite sport is basketball (he is also a lifelong fan of Tottenham Hotspur), he stuck at tennis and, in 2013, won the boys’ championship at the Australian Open. It was clear that a star had been born. However, it was not long before the media started applying the ‘bad boy’ tag. And it stuck.
In 2015, he was booed at Wimbledon for ‘tanking’ – giving up. He even managed to have a shouting match with the umpire over the time it took him to change his socks. In the same year, he was fined for making lewd remarks about another player’s girlfriend.
A year later, he was fined for chucking away another match in Shanghai.
By now, a pattern was clearly forming. Australia’s Olympic selectors decided not to include him in the squad for Rio 2016, amid concerns about his behaviour. Kyrgios responded with a predictable throwing of toys from pram. The selectors, he said, were guilty of ‘unfair and unjust treatment’. He announced in advance that he did not want to enter the Tokyo Games on the grounds that he did not want to play in front of empty stadiums.
John McEnroe, the ‘bad boy’ of Wimbledon yelling at an umpire in 1981: ‘You cannot be serious!’ barely registers on the tantrum-ometer compared with Saturday night’s outbreak of hysterics Pictured: John McEnroe, playing in the 1981 Wimbledon Championships
For many years, the ‘bad boy’ of Wimbledon had been McEnroe, famous for that 1981 spat during which he yelled at an umpire: ‘You cannot be serious!’ Though that moment has gone down in sporting history, it seems utterly harmless these days. Indeed, it barely registers on the tantrum-ometer compared with Saturday night’s outbreak of hysterics on Court One. And Kyrgios is five years older than McEnroe was back then.
Yet there are lessons to be learned here. Let us not forget that McEnroe stopped the whining and went on to win the title in 1981.
What’s more, from his position as a greatly revered expert on the game today, he has repeatedly voiced his exasperation with Kyrgios.
Back in 2016, after Nasty Nick had been ‘tanking’ again at the US Open (even swearing at his own coach), McEnroe had a blunt message: ‘Nick Kyrgios, if you don’t want to be a professional tennis player, do something else.’ Yet three years later, he described Kyrgios as ‘the most talented guy I have seen in perhaps ten years’.
Last year, McEnroe even went as far as to say that if he had to coach anyone on today’s circuit, he would pick Kyrgios.
Now that really would be worth watching.