There are plenty of sports where aggressive action and bad-tempered behaviour are part of what fans look forward to.
Wrestling and mixed martial arts, definitely. American football and ice hockey, maybe. Boxing and rugby – perhaps a bit of a stretch. But tennis? Unlikely to ever be on such a list.
Yet Australian player Nick Kyrgios doesn’t seem to have received that particular memo and is doing his utmost to live up to the “bad boy” reputation he’s cultivated over the years.
The tennis star recently admitted to assaulting an ex-girlfriend but has surprisingly avoided a criminal conviction. An Australian newspaper reports that the charge relates to an allegation that the tennis star grabbed his former partner Chiara Passari in December 2021.
Nick and his legal team asked for the charge to be removed under mental health grounds but it was rejected by magistrate Beth Campbell, who instead said the seriousness of the matter was “low level,” meaning a conviction was not recorded.
“I respect today’s ruling and am grateful to the court for dismissing the charges without conviction. I was not in a good place when this took place and I reacted to a difficult situation in a way I deeply regret,” he said.
"I was not in good place when this happened and I reacted to a difficult situation in a way I deeply regret," he said.
"I know it wasn't OK and I'm sincerely sorry for the hurt I caused."
Still, many have called for stronger action against Kyrgios’ aggressive behaviour both on and off the court.
Greek player Stefanos Tsitsipas said Kyrgios has “a very evil side” after they played a particularly mean-spirited match, in which Kyrgios called his opponent “dumb” and “a disgrace”.
“It’s constant bullying – that’s what he does,” Stefanos (23) added. “He bullies opponents. He was probably a bully at school.”
“Kyrgios should’ve been defaulted,” former British tennis ace John Lloyd reckons. “It became almost impossible for Stefanos Tsitsipas to play. Kyrgios was basically trying to disrupt his opponent’s game.”
Yet the 27-year-old is anything but apologetic – apoplectic is likely a more natural state for him.
During his first match at last year’s Wimbledon, against Britain’s Paul Jubb, he called one line judge “a snitch with no fans” because he didn’t agree with her call, and then suggested another was in his nineties and “can’t see the ball”.
During the same match he earned himself a hefty £8 211 (R164 220) fine for spitting at a spectator.
“I wouldn’t be doing that to someone who was supporting me,” came his response to criticism about what he’d done. “I’ve been dealing with hate and negativity for a long time so I don’t feel like I owed that person anything. He literally came to the match to not even support anyone really. Just to stir up disrespect. That’s fine, but if I give it back to you, that’s just how it is.”
He's currently ranked 20th in the world and at time of publishing had never won a singles Grand Slam title. Yet despite this, he’s been known to rate himself as “one of the best players on tour”.
But his methods are rather unconventional. For instance, he doesn’t have a coach, preferring to come up with his own strategy, and has said he finds training “boring”.
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Kyrgios, who grew up in the Australian capital Canberra, picked up a racket for the first time at age six. Right from the start his Greek father, Giorgios, a decorator, and mother, Norlaila, a computer analyst who’s of Malaysian descent, could see the youngest of their three children had a talent for tennis.
At 16 he won a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport where he got to focus purely on tennis, and by 2013 he was being tipped as someone definitely worth watching after winning the Australian Open’s boys’ championship.
But it wasn’t long before his temper started rearing its ugly head. At Wimbledon in 2015, he got a code violation for swearing, got into a petty argument with the umpire about whether he was taking too long to change his socks, and was booed by the crowd for deliberately hitting shots into the net.
He’s shared in interviews how being away from home on the tennis circuit has affected his mental health. “My relationship with my family wasn’t great a few years ago because I was always away,” he says. “I travel seven months a year, to new places every week, which is why tennis is so hard, in my opinion. Mental play is ridiculously difficult. Physically, you have to be an animal.”
Although these days he has his new girlfriend, Australian social media influencer Costeen Hatzi (22), cheering him on in the stands, he admits it often feels “like the world’s against you”.
If he could just buckle down and focus on the tennis instead of throwing tantrums all the time, he could take his rightful place as one of the game’s biggest stars, commentators say.
Last year, Kyrgios showed what he’s capable of when he clinched the doubles title at the Australian Open with fellow Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis. “He’s got as much talent, if not more talent, than Roger Federer or John McEnroe,” says former British No 1 Greg Rusedski.
Meanwhile, McEnroe says the temperamental Australian only has himself to blame for not winning more matches.
“It’s tough to watch because he’s so talented, so great for the game,” the former world No 1 says. “I would love to see him step up and be in the top five or six players, where I think he belongs”.
But Kyrgios needs to get a handle on his temper, and fans and officials have a role to play too.
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“In the case of Nick, some of us helped create this ugliness by sanctioning, defending and in some cases encouraging the build-up behaviour,” reckons sports journalist Jon Wertheim. “We want colour. We want showmen. We want players who acknowledge fans and we want the entertainment factor.”
Seems tennis might yet make that list of violent sporting spectacles.
- Demanding a beer on court
Kyrgios sarcastically demanded a spectator bring him a beer after his second-round defeat at the hands of South Africa’s Kevin Anderson at the 2017 French Open. He also smashed two rackets during the match.
- Throwing a tantrum about a towel
He delayed his 2019 Rogers Cup match by more than 20 minutes, insisting he wasn’t going to play until officials brought him a white towel instead of one bearing the tournament’s brand.
- Blaming his defeat on a spectator
During a media conference following his loss to Roger Federer at the 2019 Laver Cup, he joked he’d lost concentration after spotting “a really hot chick in the crowd”.
- Throwing a chair
After being given a game penalty for swearing and unsportsmanlike conduct at the 2019 Italian Open, he hurled a chair onto the court and kicked a water bottle, which he followed up with an expletive-filled rant. He then picked up his bag and left the court before officials announced they were defaulting him, meaning he’d lost the match.
- Trying to hit Rafa
Kyrgios smashed a ball at Rafael Nadal in anger during his 2019 second-round defeat at Wimbledon 2019. “I wanted to hit him square in the chest,” he said afterwards
SOURCES: THECONVERSATION.COM, PEOPLE.COM, DAILYMAIL.CO.UK, 7NEWS.COM.AU, MYLONDON.NEWS, TELEGRAPH.CO.UK, FOXSPORTS.COM.AU, SI.COM