After Nick Kyrgios dropped his bottle again this week, the ATP promised an “investigation” into his behaviour.
Does it involve forensic tennis detectives sitting in a command centre trying to figure out how YouTube works? The ATP needs to investigate Kyrgios like the rest of us need to investigate today’s weather – it’s just happening, right in front of you, constantly.
Kyrgios has been edging his way into forced retirement for some time now. It makes for wonderful viewing. Clearly, the Australian enjoys the push-pull of breaking the rules and then being punished for it. There’s a wide streak of sadomasochism in him.
But then he was spanked a little too hard for his liking.
Kyrgios went wild at a tournament in Cincinnati a while back – racquet smashing, bad language, spitting. Spitting! Even by his own high standard, this was something.
The ATP fined Kyrgios US$113,000 for the outburst. That represents a 10th of his earnings this year.
In the usual way of these things, that reaction prompted a re-reaction. After taking a few days to think about it, Kyrgios – a man who loves sulking at a news conference more than you love anything – dug in deeper.
Asked what he thought of the fine, Kyrgios said, “The ATP is pretty corrupt anyway. I’m not fussed about it at all.”
Apparently, this was the point at which Kyrgios’s agent unsuccessfully tried to intervene in the presser. That poor man. Generally speaking, the athlete representation business is a blissful lark. You go into a room on behalf of your client, hand someone a number written on a piece of paper and they give it to you. You take a nice cut of the total and go on to the next room.
Kyrgios’s agent? That guy is working for a living. Full-on grinding. Every time a phone rings, he must burst into tears.
But this time, someone scared Kyrgios into submission. Later on Wednesday, he walked his statement back.
Posting on Instagram (that is, agreeing to have a news release filed under his byline), Kyrgios “said”: “It was not the correct choice of words and my point and intention was to address what I see as double standards rather than corruption.”
We have finally found tennis’s line in the sand when it comes to shenanigans. You can stamp your feet all you want, but you cannot call into question the divinity of the Holy and Incorruptible ATP.
Kyrgios aside, the state of sportsmanship in tennis is appalling. Delightfully so.
Just in the past few days we’ve seen Stefanos Tsitsipas wig out on a referee after he was told to hurry up.
“For some reason, you have something against me,” the Greek moaned. “I don’t know what – because you’re French probably. And you’re all weirdos.”
On the women’s side, Italy’s Camila Giorgi essentially stiff-armed an opponent at the net after losing a match. She’s notorious for this sort of thing.
We won’t bother rehashing Serena Williams blowing a rod at last year’s U.S. Open final. I didn’t mind the eruption, which was a psychological ploy gone awry. I did quickly tire of the postmatch accusations of sexism and bullying by the referee, an obvious attempt to get the sports media chasing its own tail (and it obliged).
But credit to Williams – she got away with it. Tennis players always do.
In summation, tennis is the worst. Which, oddly, makes it the best.
Every sport has its own culture dictating what is and isn’t appropriate. Soccer players are permitted to feign injury. Nobody likes it. But they keep doing it and no one in charge does anything to stop it. Which means it is permitted.
Football players are allowed to openly mock one another. Basketball players are encouraged to showboat. Hockey players are encouraged to … actually, hockey players can’t do anything fun. That’s their culture – funlessness.
In tennis, you can be a big, bawling baby. That’s cool with everyone. Especially the ATP and WTA. Because they are the only people in a position to correct this bad behaviour and, were they serious about doing that, they’d punish it with something more than a fine and an eyeroll.
Why don’t they do anything? Because no one really remembers Bjorn Borg or Stefan Edberg any more, and everyone remembers John McEnroe and Andre Agassi. That’s why.
But if you go against the ruling cabal, the room goes quiet and trouble starts to brew.
The ATP is under mounting pressure lately, the only sort that matters to a pro sports league – financial.
The players want a bigger cut of the revenue pie. Since that has not been forthcoming, some serious accusations against the Tour and its constituent tournaments are being levelled. Writing in The Globe and Mail a few weeks ago, Canadian pro Vasek Pospisil said big tournaments have a “monopoly and complete control of the ATP” through the existing board structure.
He isn’t the only one who’s upset, but he’s one of the few with enough guts to talk about it in public. You can see the shaky beginnings of a resistance beginning to form inside pro tennis. This is a combustible moment.
And then Kyrgios staggers into frame.
Here’s what he didn’t understand – that you are encouraged to, within reason, act a fool. That’s good for ratings. What you are not encouraged to do is mess with the money. That’s bad for the people who really matter (and none of them plays tennis for a living).
Kyrgios is about as sharp as a bowling ball, but someone evidently made the distinction clear to him. Hence the step back.
On Thursday evening, Kyrgios was back at his old tricks. Emphasis on “old.” He arrived on court with his shirt collar flipped up and emblazoned with the words “JUST DO YOU.” When the umpire told him to turn the collar down, Kyrgios wigged out. Plus ça change and all that.
Kyrgios then beat Antoine Hoang 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
What’s sad in all this isn’t the ATP’s corporate control-freakism or the fact that tennis players don’t get as big a slice as they’d like (if they’re so bothered, they should go on strike. Let’s see how that turns out).
What’s disappointing is that the Most Dangerous Man in Sports turns out to be just another tennis whiner and make-believe rebel. He’ll rock the boat, but only as much as he’s allowed.