Is Nick Kyrgios the heel that tennis needs?

 Photo courtesy of Carine06

Photo courtesy of Carine06

Read it on The Cauldron.

What’s the adjective for a prick, prickly? Whatever it is, Nick Kyrgios, at just 20 years old, is that. He wasn’t always that way, but he became that this month at the Rogers Cup in Montreal.

Because of the insult heard around the world.

At the Rogers Cup, Kyrgios had choice words for his opponent Stanislas Wawrinka in the pair’s second round match, putting the trash in “trash talk” and telling him that Thanasi Kokkinakis, a fellow Australian player on tour, had made sweet love to Wawrinka’s new girlfriend. You know, in so many words.

See, Wawrinka, a recent divorcee, has reportedly been linked to the WTA Tour’s Donna Vekic, a 19-year-old who had competed at the Australian Open in mixed doubles in 2014 with, you guessed it, Thanasi Kokkinakis.

It’s the insult heard around the world, because an on-court camera and microphone at Uniprix Stadium picked up what Kyrgios said. And then Twitter picked it up and ran with it. And just like that, Kyrgios had completed the transition from young and promising to, well, now less young and obnoxious — oh, and still promising, sure.

It’s the insult that everyone heard about because after winning his match against Wawrinka when the Swiss retired, Sportsnet’s Arash Madani asked Kyrgios about what he said. The Aussie wasn’t quite forthcoming.

This latest instance probably only reinforced whatever was already your opinion of him. It’s yet another reason for you to hate him if you already did, or you already knew that one day he was bound to say something like this and regret it.

It wasn’t pretty, as they say. Visibly flustered, Kyrgios so clearly didn’t expect to be asked about this and was essentially dismissive of the reporter, basically saying that Wawrinka had it coming.

Wawrinka, well, didn’t agree with that at all, saying just after his loss that the ATP World Tour needed to step in and punish the 20-year-old.

Kyrgios’s fellow players on tour also chimed in. Said No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic: “He was fined and he deserved it. He’s learned a lesson in a hard way.” Said Rafael Nadal: “I hope he’s able to recognize his mistake and I hope he’s able to change his attitude.” Said Andy Murray: “But Nick, he’s not all bad. People want to make it like he is. But he’s a young guy who’s, you know, growing up in the spotlight.” Said Roger Federer: “I think we all agree that he definitely crossed the line by a long shot. We’re not used to that kind of talk in tennis.”

That’s to say that Kyrgios has been taken to task — and with good reason, sure.

Folks from the ATP answered Wawrinka’s plea, sort of, and punished Kyrgios for the incident — and any remaining doubts as to whether the young man was the sport’s perfect heel vanished. He’s perfect for the role, as he’s equally talented as he is willing to embrace his personality and for being unapologetic.

Except that Kyrgios did apologize for his behaviour, yes, the following day in a Facebook post. But by then it was too late and the ATP had given its verdict: that Nick Kyrgios isn’t the heel it believes it needs. That’s what the suspended extra fine of $25,000 and the one-month suspension say: any press is good press… unless it’s this kind of press.

Attendance and prize money numbers have been fine, growing and reaching new highs quite often. The men’s Rogers Cup, for example, very nearly beat its attendance record for one-week tournament and only a very small minority of the 207,355 fans who showed up during this rain-soaked week did so to boo Kyrgios in his next match against American John Isner. Most bought a ticket because they love tennis. Likewise, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells has a financial commitment of over $10 million, far from its original $250,000 purse at its launch in 1982. 

Tennis is fine.

But if he’s not the heel that the sport needs, is he the heel that tennis deserves? Perhaps.

Kyrgios is a creation of Wimbledon after all. It’s where he’s enjoyed his best and brightest moments, taking down Nadal in the fourth round in 2014 as an 19-year-old, after predicting that he would, to reach the quarterfinals. (Then, he was the youngster “with no fear and a golden arm.” How times have changed!)

And remember, Wimbledon is the sport’s Great Cathedral for you’d believe, from watching the Wimbledon powers that be act, that the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club were erected on holy grounds and stood atop the edicts upon which tennis had been invented once upon a time.

It isn’t the case, but Wimbledon still believes holy/wholly in its gospel and its religion.

But like all Great Cathedrals and religions, Wimbledon will have to one day adapt. To arrive in modernity. It will have to one day soften its stance so that if, oh I don’t know, a Nick Kyrgios happens to purchase an official Wimbledon headband at the official Wimbledon store at the All England Club, and then plays with said headband, that he then can expect to not be tagged with a damn dress code violation.

Kyrgios managed to overcome this, sure, but you could forgive him for his outburst in that match. And also his “tank job” against Richard Gasquet turned out to be of his own doing: I saw Kei Nishikori pull an arguably worse routine against Andy Murray at the end of their semifinal at the Rogers Cup, but the Japanese isn’t Kyrgios. (He seemed injured too, sure, since he then pulled out of the following week’s Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati).

The current age of tennis will not last forever. Who carries the mantle after the likes of Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have left? What happens when the Fab Five (throw Wawrinka in the group) has moved on? No one is saying that Kyrgios is the Chosen One, but he could be — unless, dixit ex-brat pro player turned commentator John McEnroe, he continues down this road.

And Johnny Mac knows a thing or three about throwing fits on a tennis court. Amirite, Jonny?

Nick, I think what McEnroe is really trying to tell you is that winning cures all ills. Manage to snag one or two big titles and, well, we’ll let you say (mostly) what you want. Especially against Wimbledon.