You are here

THE FINISH LINE

A tennis talent who generates both buzz and suspensions

Australia's fiery Nick Kyrgios continues to create controversy wherever he plays.

BT_20190831_FINISH31_3878520.jpg
Above: Kyrgios, 24, regularly attacks the game at which he intermittently excels. The Australian's violations of the game's unwritten codes can be fine theatre.

New York

Nick Kyrgios appears to be rightfully headed for another suspension from the men's professional tennis tour. He could also go deep, very deep, at this year's US Open.

That puts the sport in an awkward position, but then Kyrgios is constantly tying his profession and himself into knots as he flickers between brilliant and boorish, compassionate and clueless.

No man outside the so-called "big three" of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer generates as much buzz these days. You can argue that no man, not even one of that trio, generates as much interest from the younger fans whom tennis desperately needs to reach if it is to remain a part of everyone's screen time.

sentifi.com

Market voices on:

But Kyrgios, 24, also regularly attacks the game at which he intermittently excels. The Australian's violations of the game's unwritten codes - showing up opponents with trick shots or forehand blasts at their mid-sections, as he did with Nadal at Wimbledon this year - can be fine theatre.

Tennis needs contrasts in personalities. But Kyrgios is also a serial rule-breaker, and his on-court behaviour often disrespects not just players, officials and his own courtside entourage but also the sport itself. The pattern, and it is undeniably a pattern, has gone on long enough, resurfacing this month at a tournament in Cincinnati and again on Tuesday night at the US Open with an outburst in a news conference after he won his opening match at this year's final grand slam.

Box-office appeal

Kyrgios deserves to be suspended again, for the second time in his career, and he is likely to be suspended again despite all his box-office and YouTube appeal.

So why has no action been taken yet? The explanation is partly about fairness and due process: it takes time to gather information and reach a definitive judgment. But the delay is also about professional tennis' divided governance.

For a niche sport, albeit a global one, it has a surplus of jurisdictions and chief executives.

Kyrgios is facing two investigations by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), either of which could lead to a lengthy suspension if he is found to have committed a major offence under the tour's code of conduct.

The first investigation stems from his behaviour during a second-round loss at the Western & Southern Open on Aug 14.

He was fined a record sum for the men's tour - US$113,000 - for a series of offences that included unsportsmanlike conduct, verbal abuse of the chair umpire, Fergus Murphy, an audible obscenity and leaving the court without authorisation during the match.

During that break off court, he smashed two rackets, and at the conclusion of the match - which was won by Karen Khachanov - Kyrgios appeared to spit in Murphy's general direction.

The ATP announced the fines and a major-offense investigation the next day but has yet to formally hear Kyrgios' version of events.

Knowing that the process could take time, the ATP decided to wait until Kyrgios was eliminated from the US Open, so he could focus on the tournament at hand. He was thus free to play in New York without the US Open organisers having to debate whether it would respect a ban by the ATP Tour, a separate organisation with separate officials.

But then on Tuesday, after a brilliant performance and some more misbehaviour in his straight-sets victory over Steve Johnson, Kyrgios was asked at a news conference whether the hefty fine from the Ohio tournament had affected him.

"Not at all," he said. "The ATP is pretty corrupt anyway, so I'm not fussed about it at all."

Rash statement

Considering the cloud Kyrgios was already under, it was a rash statement, and the ATP reacted quickly on Wednesday.

It announced that it would begin another major-offence investigation, this one into "conduct contrary to the integrity of the game". Kyrgios soon backed away from the use of the word "corrupt" in a statement he issued later that day. "It was not the correct choice of words," he said. "My point and intention was to address what I see as double standards rather than corruption."

Kyrgios' qualified retraction could work in his favour in the investigation by Gayle David Bradshaw, the ATP's vice-president for rules and competition.

But Bradshaw and other tour executives have already shown considerable forbearance through the years and the incidents. They could have given Kyrgios a lengthy ban when he showed lack of effort during the Shanghai Masters in October 2016, walking off the court in the middle of a point. Instead, he served only a three-week suspension after he agreed to psychological counselling and did not have to miss a single major tournament.

He was chastened for a time and has yet to demonstrate an equally egregious lack of effort in a match, but his verbal abuse of officials and of some heckling spectators has continued.

Breaking a racket is no big deal. Directly and profanely attacking a chair umpire's integrity, as he has done with Murphy, is a more serious matter, particularly when he has had so many opportunities to get his act together.

So what now? Bradshaw could reach a ruling more quickly on this latest issue, and if Kyrgios marches on at the US Open (he will play in the third round this weekend), the ruling could even come while he is still playing in the tournament.

If the ATP does suspend Kyrgios for a major offence - and his pattern of behaviour does appear to give it grounds - Grand Slam officials would then have to decide whether to extend the ban to their own events. The same question would apply to the Laver Cup, a team event that will be held in Geneva next month. NYTIMES