Nick Kyrgios. If I randomly selected ten people on the street and said that name I’d get a mix of reactions, admittedly some of them not very complimentary. Kyrgios has become polarizing and I’ve heard every opinion under the sun about him, “He’s only 20, what do you expect”, “I think he is a breath of fresh air”, “He needs to be banned”, and “He goes too far”.
Is any of that fair? Should our sportsmen be role models, act how their sport expects them to, and fall within the guidelines that society wants? The general public is split and so are the fans. For every fan who thinks a tantrum is out of bounds there is another who loves the conflict. The media will jump and report on any athlete that is different because that is what they do. Drama sells and always will.
For the fans it can be a little more complex. In every sport there are two kinds of fans, there is the ‘hardcore’ fan that follows their sport closely, reads stories online everyday, checks twitter accounts of their favorite players and teams and can recite past victories and defeats without looking it up. The ‘hardcore’ fan is probably a traditionalist, reveres the sports history and respects the Champions of the past not only for the on-field exploits but also for how they carried themselves.
Then there is the casual fan that watches the occasional game on TV, has one jersey in their closet that rarely gets worn and will go to a game only if their mates are going. They know the history of their sport but aren’t caught up on the traditions and when an athlete or team comes along that acts outside the rules with a level of flamboyance they are likely to be drawn to that.
That is where Kyrgios has become so polarizing. The traditionalists are horrified by his antics; the casuals embrace it as interesting, he gives tennis a spark. Its not like tennis hasn’t had bad boys of the past. McEnroe, Nastase and Connors come to mind.
Andre Agassi was once considered a bad boy and a brat who was all image and no substance with his denim shorts and disrespect for authority. Ivan Lendl once described him as nothing more than “A haircut and a forehand”. Agassi had a love/hate relationship with the sport that gave him fame and fortune and only gained perspective when he plummeted to 141 in the world, tried crystal meth and was playing satellite tournaments. He reached rock bottom and reevaluated where his life and career were going, turned his image and himself around and ended up winning multiple Slams.
Kyrgios may never have any of those problems or need to turn anything around; he may act the exact same way he currently does for the next ten years with varying success. He may win multiple Slams or none. Nobody knows. I do know this though, if in twelve or fourteen years time when his career is over and there are no Grand Slam trophies in the cabinet, only multiple tantrums, he will have regrets, it will be an unfulfilled career, especially with his level of talent. Regardless if you’re of fan of his or not, that would be a pity.