It should have been shocking. It should have been disturbing. It should have been the only thing capturing our attention. And yet, when I first watched a replay of Nick Kyrgios’ chair-throwing outburst that got him disqualified from his second-round match against Casper Ruud at the Rome Masters, I was more intrigued by the reaction of the guy sitting in the front row right behind him.
He was dressed in a dark green T-shirt, and probably had the best view of the whole shebang. And as Kyrgios hurled the chair across the court in disgust, this guy opened his mouth wide and put his hands on his head in the most theatrical way possible. He looked stunned to his core, as though he couldn’t believe his eyes; it was a reaction that wouldn’t have been out of place in an Ekta Kapoor serial.
Is that what Kyrgios is always looking for, a reaction worthy of his time? So much of what Kyrgios does – the tweeners, the no-look shots, the verbal taunts, the explosive comments – seem like they are designed specifically for an audience. That makes you wonder whether he’d do any of it if people stopped reacting altogether.
To a lot of people who’ve followed Kyrgios closely, the throwing of the chair wasn’t totally unexpected. Sure, it was a transgression different from any that he had committed in the past, and probably the first time he had risked someone getting physically hurt. But the moment you saw him beginning to lose it after a verbal altercation with the crowd that involved swearing (which was the trigger for his final code violation), you knew that things were about to go up in flames.
What was unexpected, and what made yesterday’s incident perhaps a little more headline-grabbing than it ordinarily would’ve been, was his interview from two days ago. In case you missed it, Kyrgios participated in a no-holds-barred podcast with journalist Ben Rothenberg where, among other things, he called Rafael Nadal “super salty”, Fernando Verdasco “the most arrogant person ever”, and Novak Djokovic a person who has a “sick obsession with wanting to be liked.”
These weren’t throwaway comments that were taken out of context; they were part of a long and wide-ranging conversation where Kyrgios was specifically asked what he thought about the biggest luminaries in the game. And in all fairness, a majority of the interview was refreshing and unfiltered, making for a thoroughly entertaining 50 minutes (give it a whirl if you’ve got the time).
But in many ways, Kyrgios’ blockbuster comments spoke more about himself than the superstars he was slating. He talked about how Djokovic wasn’t the GOAT because he couldn’t beat someone who didn’t do much training (Kyrgios has a 2-0 head-to-head record against Djokovic). Was that a thinly veiled suggestion that he himself was so impossibly talented he could beat anyone with half the effort?
Kyrgios called out Nadal, his “polar opposite”, for his supposedly ungracious comments after losing, but also lamented how the Spaniard’s words are “the only thing that matter”. Is he insecure that people don’t give his own comments as much weight as they do Nadal’s?
Most damningly of all, Kyrgios repeated throughout the interview that he doesn’t take himself or his profession seriously, at one point even stressing that his peers shouldn’t be proud of themselves just because they can “hit a ball over the net”. And yet he also bemoaned the fact that he is constantly the subject of ‘waste of potential’ articles, and that the fans in the stands always treat him “like crap”.
All through his career Kyrgios has claimed he doesn’t take anything seriously, but he certainly seems to take every reaction to his antics very seriously. Why else would he get upset when people say he is wasting his talent? Why else would he be bothered about how the fans treat him?
He wants us to believe he doesn’t care about winning or losing, because “it’s just tennis”. But if that were really true, he wouldn’t smash his racquet in frustration nearly every match. He wouldn’t try to get under the skin of his opponents like he did with Stan Wawrinka at the Canada Masters in 2016 (in the podcast Kyrgios insisted that he hadn’t crossed a line in the incident, and that the whole thing was “hilarious”). And he certainly wouldn’t be so enraged by a game penalty that he’d throw a chair across the court in response.
Kyrgios is blunt and bold, both with his tennis and his interviews. But he also seems insecure and fearful, and a study in contradictions – a person who says one thing, and practices another. Many have called him a tortured soul, and Rothenberg even went as far as calling him a ‘tortured genius’. But maybe it would be more appropriate to call him a confused genius, because he doesn’t seem to know what he truly stands for in his life and career.
We’ve experienced about five years of the Kyrgios Show now, and it has had more twists and turns than your average Hollywood pot-boiler. The last significant twist, his declaration that he was seeking psychiatric help for his mental health issues in late 2018, had convinced most of us that his questionable behavior needed to be taken with a pinch of salt. He wasn’t expressly harming anyone with his words or actions, and so could be left to his own devices – angry outbursts and all.
But throwing a chair across the court could harm people. It could also turn into the worst possible advertisement for himself as well as the sport; for those five seconds of madness Kyrgios looked like a caricature, and the rules looked like a joke.
After the match Kyrgios posted an apology on Instagram, saying, “Emotions got the better of me.” He didn’t sound very sorry on Twitter though, tweeting a laughing emoji at one of the videos capturing the aftermath of his disqualification.
Casper Ruud, the man who was both a beneficiary and a first-hand spectator of the incident, said later that Kyrgios should be suspended for at least half a year. As things stand, Kyrgios has been fined 20,000 euros for his disqualification. He has also been stripped of his ranking points and prize money from the tournament, and a closer investigation will determine if any further action is to be taken. Is a stronger punishment warranted?
It is easy to conflate Kyrgios’ tantrum against Ruud with his comments from a day earlier, but chair-throwing is objectively a big enough offense that demands serious introspection on its own. Disrespecting Djokovic and Nadal is not a crime, but committing an act of violence on the court (or anywhere, really) is.
As you’d expect, Twitter has been in meltdown mode pretty much the whole of the last two days. Suggested punishments have ranged from a six-month suspension to a permanent ban from professional tennis, and sympathy for the Aussie has been scarce.
The phrase ‘enough is enough’ has also been thrown around liberally, and that does hit home to an extent. It’s become a little tiring to go through the whole gamut of emotions every time Kyrgios steps on the court. As entertaining as he is, sometimes you wish he was a little boring.
And that, in a nutshell, is exactly what keeps the saga going. Kyrgios isn’t who he is because of his nature; we’ve already seen he doesn’t always act the way he feels. Rather, Kyrgios is who he is because of us. Everything that we do or say in response to his shenanigans emboldens him, excites him, enthralls him, and possibly shapes his entire behavior.
If that reminds you of a spoilt brat, you are not alone. Kyrgios is in many ways like an overgrown child – usually harmless, but always craving attention. If I didn’t know better, I’d have even said his chair-throwing act was a culmination of a carefully planned setup that began with the Rothenberg interview. He knew the entire tennis world would be watching his match against Ruud, so is it a stretch to imagine he deliberately chose that precise moment to unleash his last, violent move?
In other words, has the class clown crossed the line of no return, reaching a point where he is actively looking to cause mayhem? If I was in the officials’ shoes, I wouldn’t take the risk of waiting this one out.
Kyrgios is getting progressively worse with his tantrums, and there’s no guarantee that he will continue to remain harmless if left unchecked. A suspension seems almost necessary at this point – along with a good deal of corrective measures that ensure he fully realizes the consequences of his actions.
Nick Kyrgios is always looking for a reaction. It is time the officials gave him one that he isn’t looking for.
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Updated Date: May 17, 2019 11:42:21 IST