As the tennis world once again loses itself in questions about Nick Kyrgios behaviour, Michael Graham ponders what he believes is the only question that actually matters: are we not entertained?
I have a confession to make and it’s one that is said far too often by far too many people: Nick Kyrgios has really annoyed me this week.
However, unlike those apparently raging at his on-court antics, he has annoyed me by reminding us all just how much sport has lost touch with itself.
It’s probably linked to money. Everything else is these days. It feels like the more money that sport costs the spectator the less entertaining it wants to be.
I honestly don’t know why that is, but it’s annoying.
Now, I must insert a disclaimer at this juncture. Kyrgios’ behavior at the Miami Open this week has the power to divide opinion. It has been willfully unconventional and it has come as no surprise that it has prompted debate. He brings it upon himself.
In the space of just a few days he has called an umpire “an absolute f***ing disgrace”, got himself involved in a verbal altercation with a heckling fan, and annoyed players why serving an underarm ace.
That is some going, even for Nick Kyrgios. But here is the thing…
Is it just understandable, possibly even commendable passion in the heat of the moment, or is he a “foul-mouthed little brat” as veteran Australian sports anchor Tony Jones claims? You could argue either way.
Does his temperament hinder him, as Rafael Nadal has suggested, or does it fuel him? You could argue it either way.
Is his underarm serve an act of disrespect or, as Judy Murray insists, an act of pure unadulterated genius? You could argue either way. Indeed, with Nick Kyrgios, it seems that arguing either way is all we ever do.
Judy Murray backs ‘genius’ Nick Kyrgios as underarm serve debate rages on.https://t.co/ceCZ2lvx2E
— Tennis365 (@T365Official) March 26, 2019
However, has Kyrgios been entertaining this week? Yes. Absolutely. Unassailably affirmative. And therein lays my frustration.
Because whatever else sport is, it is primarily entertainment. That’s why we watch it. That’s why we pay our money, and part of the appeal is the total unpredictability of what form that entertainment will take.
We may get a classic sporting contest between two greats. We may get an upset. We may get an amazing underdog story. We may get a timelessly embarrassing mistake. We may get a great emotional angle. We may get something for the blooper reel. Knowing would spoil the fun.
Therefore, players such as Kyrgios, and they don’t come along often enough to take for granted, should be treasured.
If we are honest, he probably doesn’t do himself any favours with his shenanigans and, judging purely on talent, he probably shouldn’t be toiling away so low in the rankings.
— Tennis365 (@T365Official) March 25, 2019
But, you know what? Zinedine Zidane shouldn’t have been getting sent off for headbutts in World Cup finals. Alex Higgins shouldn’t have been rubbish at snooker for most of his career. Mike Tyson shouldn’t be biting anyone’s ear off. Andre Agassi shouldn’t have let follicle insecurity get in the way of his tennis talent.
The list of flawed sporting geniuses is lengthy and, frankly, glorious, and that unpredictable temperament is a crucial part of what makes them such absorbing characters to follow. That human element is the very essence and the very spirit of sport. If it wasn’t, we’d all watch computer simulations instead.
If sport is to truly be a spectacle and tell a story, it needs its bad-guys. Every great movie needs a great antagonist. They are usually the best characters in it.
“As for Kyrgios, I mean, how many second chances do you give this kid?” asked Jones.
“He’s a foul-mouthed little brat and I just think: no more second chances. He should be banned for three months on the back of that.”
Well, a foul-mouthed little brat Kyrgios may well be, but tennis is an infinitely more entertaining sport for his presence, and the last thing we should be is so ignorantly and appreciatively dismissive of that.
Roger Federer into Australian Open quarter-final.
Ashleigh Barty keeps the dream alive at Australian Open.
Novak Djokovic rolls on at Melbourne Park.
Sofia Kenin gets big win over Coco Gauff.
Milos Raonic can do no wrong at the Australian Open.
Nick Kyrgios on his relationship with Rafael Nadal.
The next few days could be the making of Sacha Zverev.
Derek Bilton has tips for your Australian Open betting slip.
Wins too for Zverev and Medvedev.
Just two remain of the top six seeds.