Nick Kyrgios a character? Maybe, but he's also a pain in the backside
Tumaini Carayol takes a look at the flamboyant Australian, whose extreme antics on and off the court have divided fans at Wimbledon.
Nick Kyrgios wanted all to know that he is the man, so ahead of his Wimbledon second round match he bopped onto the court, collar popped, armed with the most florescent pair of pink Beats headphones ever seen.
To further accentuate his intentions, he sat himself into his seat and started to dance, arms and legs all involved, basking in the crowd's gaze.
A few shots into the warm up, he threw down his first S-bomb of the day just to get the blood flowing.
The crowd laughed, so he chucked in a between-the-legs trick shot for good measure. All the while, the loud Australian fans screamed his name in unison. All eyes and ears were fully immersed in Nick Kyrgios before a ball had been struck, as he clearly thinks it always should be.
For a player who is yet to break the top 20 and has only been on the ATP for one solitary year, Kyrgios has impressively mastered the art of generating attention through the good, the bad and the hideous.
He is "a character", they say. And despite the fact that the top tennis players of this generation have, in many minds, taken men's tennis to levels never previously seen, there continues to be a constant obsession with the idea that tennis is craving these "characters".
Nick Kyrgios of Australia holds his necklace in his mouthReuters
After his first round match, the Australian was asked if he considers himself one such character, and he left little doubt to how he sees himself.
"I think the sport needs characters," he agreed. "I feel like, you know, it's good when you see someone that's raw and just plays the game the way they play it, doesn't really worry about other stuff when they're out there."
When things are good, this may well be true. At his best, Kyrgios' tennis is as flashy as the showmanship and questionable streak of blonde in his hair.
He has achieved a miracle by making untouchable serving - the single most detested style of play in modern men's tennis - actually worth watching. The combination of his impeccable timing and a rapid, loose arm can generate unthinkable, nuclear bombs off both wings. In his young career, there have been a couple of fleeting moments when all aspects of his game combined, moments where he looks like he at least possesses the ability to one day rule the world.
When Wawrinka was told of his opponent's antics, the French Open champion's eyes rolled in circles.
"Doesn't really surprise me,” Wawrinka smirked.
“When I read his interview, it's always funny, a lot of things you can take. When I read before the match he was ready, excited for the challenge, and now he was sick.”
Two weeks later, in the face of a big slam, Kyrgios unsurprisingly stands as a much more impressive sight. He's two matches down, and has played aggressive, confident tennis in both.
But the ugly has been present throughout. In his first round match, he threatened to quit playing after a contentious call. Soon after, he bizarrely referred to somebody for some reason as “dirty scum”.
When asked about this afterwards he rounded on the reporter, before eventually very maturely divulging his reason for doing so: "'cause I can."
Two days later, he was back on the horse. After a linesman scuttled to let the umpire know of Kyrgios' swearing, the Australian rounded on him and shouted "You're a real champion. Did you get your point across?", accompanying his outburst with sarcastic applause. As Kyrgios returned to his seat after the game, he then engaged the umpire, imploring him to snitch on the linesman's own snitching.
The discussion that followed concluded with him throwing down his greatest John McEnroe impression. "Is that a threat?” he taunted. “Does it feel good to be up there in the chair? Do you feel strong up there in the chair?"
This week, even in the increasing heat, Kyrgios has been marching around the courts with a basketball player's shooting sleeve plastered to his left hand. After his first match, he nonchalantly explained that “No one wears something like that at Wimbledon, so I thought I'd give it a go,” a quote that reveals much about his mentality. He clearly fancies himself as someone who is special, edgy and doing what no one else does. He randomly decides to wear a sleeve; he is cool because he rides to the tennis on the sort of scooter usually used by six-year-olds; he inserts a streak of blonde in his hair.
The prosaic truth, however, is that the bulk of his actions aren't at all uncommon. The sleeves have actually been famously worn by Milos Raonic for a long time now. Many players throw tantrums; many people fancy themselves a little too much; and many others only sometimes offer up their best effort. He brags about his qualities as someone unburdened by the “other stuff”, but this represents a whole lot of other stuff.
None of this is to suggest that characters are anything but necessary in sport. Having interesting, layered people holding the racquets or slipping into the football boots adds intrigue and drama. But the line between being an entertaining character and a pain in the backside is very thin.
If Kyrgios hasn't already marched over it, then every time he decides that effort is beneath him, and each time he throws an unnecessary tantrum, he is edging just a little closer to the edge. For the player himself, the worst tragedy is that this may one day prove the difference between him ruling the world and being the resident jester.