What to make of Nick Kyrgios? Is he the most exciting new talent to crash the Australian tennis scene since Wally Masur, or is he just a boorish show-off who needs a good clip around the ear?
Or is he both? And more pertinently, is the fact that he’s one the reason he’s the other?
There is no question that being the great white hope of Australian tennis is a tough gig. You’re under constant pressure and intense scrutiny from the public, who enjoy pretending to care about tennis whenever there’s a chance to pass judgment on an elite athlete they’ve never met.
If there’s anything harder than passing through the furnace of Australian expectation and reaching the top, it’s doing so while remaining beloved. Lleyton Hewitt succeeded mightily but caused a large percentage of those whom he might’ve expected to cheer for him barrack loudly for his every opponent.
Mark Philippoussis managed to fail to achieve his potential on court and be deeply unpopular at the same time. Bernard Tomic looked about ready to make records for quickest journey from prodigy to implosion before Kyrgios came along to relieve him of the burden.
Who do we have to show us that being an Australian tennis star who is also beloved of the public is possible? Pat Rafter, and I’m not even sure he’s human – those underpants ads are deeply suspicious.
We can slam Kyrgios all we like, and demand that he show himself in a good light as a human being while beating the best in the world, but what if it’s just not possible? What if there is an obnoxious jerk gene in humans which, when activated, also supplies abundant tennis-playing talent?
It would explain John McEnroe. And Jimmy Connors. And Thomas Muster. And… well you can just look up ‘tennis’ on Wikipedia for a full list. Even by the wanker-intensive standards of professional sport, tennis is amazingly well-stocked with wankers, and has been for decades.
It’s not really that surprising. Look at it from Kyrgios’s point of view. Imagine you were a tall, handsome 20-year-old who suddenly found himself rich and famous and travelling the world playing the game you love in front of huge crowds? Personally I admire him for even staying upright – if I’d been in his position at 20 I’d have spent half of every day unconscious and the other half rolling naked in a swimming pool full of money.
It’s also important to keep in perspective what Kyrgios has actually done. He hasn’t killed anyone, as far as we know. He hasn’t even punched anyone. Yes, he’s abused some umpires, but then maybe he got that idea from attending literally any sporting event on any weekend in any location in Australia at any time in recorded history.
And to be fair, when he asked the chair umpire “Does it feel good to be in the chair up there?” the umpire didn’t actually answer him, so who’s being rude now?
In fact, most Australians loathe sporting officials so much that the opportunity to abuse umpires is probably one of the main motivating factors in driving youngsters to take up sport in the first place. If we stamp out umpire abuse, playing numbers will likely plummet.
So let’s not get in too much of a panic about Kyrgios. He’s only carrying on a proud tradition that is at the heart of tennis both here and abroad.
On the other hand, I suppose it would be nice to have a likeable local tennis star. But it’d be nice to have a lot of things, wouldn’t it? It’d be nice to have John Eales still captaining the Wallabies. It’d be nice to have the Channel Nine commentary team heavily sedated at the start of every summer. It’d be nice to have golden point extra-time criminalised.
But we do not always get what we want. Sometimes hard choices must be made. Do we want a great tennis player, or a nice one? Do we want Kyrgios to win titles or make friends? Do we want to see him swearing at umpires or joining the cast of Dancing With The Stars?
Because it just might be that we can’t have both. But that’s sport for you, always full of trade-offs. Can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Can’t win a grand slam without making a few explicitly biological suggestions to a linesman.
It’s really just the same situation New South Welshpeople face every year when they wish for their team to win State of Origin while knowing that this means Paul Gallen being happy. We just have to suck it up.
Of course there’s also the fact that what we think about Nick Kyrgios really doesn’t matter at all and if we don’t like watching him we can always switch over to Midsomer Murders to soothe our jangled nerves.
And while we’re doing so we could all ruminate on the strangeness of the modern world, the odd issues that stoke the fires of our indignation, and the nature of a species that decries what it is most entertained by.