Tim Lane: Nick Kyrgios’ failings play under the spotlight

Nick Kyrgios: It’s crucial for him that his tendency to self-destruct be properly addressed. Photo: Darrian TraynorWhen a live interview is likely to be prickly, an interviewer can feel somewhat apprehensive in the lead-up. As last Wednesday night’s match between Nick Kyrgios and Andreas Seppi neared its climax, Channel 7’s hired gun, Jim Courier, could be seen waiting in the shadows. A penny for his thoughts.
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Would it be Seppi, or would it be Kyrgios? I’d wager Courier was putting more thought into how he’d handle the latter possibility. I’d also wager part of him hoped it would be the former. A brief, and very visible, chat about a performance as complex as that of Kyrgios wasn’t going to be easy.

Alone among the TV commentators in frankly addressing what had been happening on the court, Courier is sufficiently thorough that any such interview would cover all the bases.

As it turned out, it was Seppi. Which brings to mind an interesting aspect of the television coverage of well-established, highly professionalised events like major tennis championships. For Kyrgios was the story. Yet there are limits to the control exercised by the rights-holding network.

Which is in contrast to sporting competitions still in the development phase. Later that same evening, during Ten’s coverage of The Big Bash League, Shane Watson admitted he was doing an interview under sufferance, having a few minutes earlier lost his wicket in frustrating circumstances.

Entertainment prevails in the still-developing BBL and the players play the game.

Leading up to Watson’s dismissal, the entertainment mindset was overplayed when the commentators passed statistical information to the Adelaide Strikers’ captain, Brad Hodge, live to air. This related to a particular bowler’s previous success against Watson. Even in Big Bash this was beyond the pale and cricket officialdom has reminded Network Ten of the integrity issues involved.

Such is the BBL’s nature that its organisers must think hard about how the balance between sport and entertainment is struck. The previous night, there had been media criticism of the fact that Brendon McCullum was prevented from playing for the Brisbane Heat against the Melbourne Stars due to suspension. As the Heat’s captain, McCullum had been twice adjudged responsible for overseeing slow over rates.

In the opinion of some, he was too important a drawcard to be sidelined and organisers owed it to the crowd to let him play.

The moral of this story? Even where rules clearly exist, it doesn’t take long for pressure to mount that they be ignored … in the interests of entertainment of course.

Back to Kyrgios, and if he continues on his current path he could become the saddest form of sporting entertainment: the John Daly type. If that sounds over-the- top, consider what will be scrutinised more closely when next he plays, his form or his behaviour? It’s crucial for him that his tendency to self-destruct be properly addressed.

While his performance on Wednesday night was irksome to watch, it’s important to recognise we don’t know the whole Kyrgios story. The morning after the night before, I had a chance encounter with one who does have some insights. He argued strenuously that this isn’t a bad young man, pointing to some excellent qualities. Not least of these was the manner in which he conducts his relationship with his girlfriend: a rare and revealing observation by a worldly, older man of a younger one.

Nevertheless, Kyrgios must take personal responsibility for his serial failings. His refusal to do this probably irritates ns more than anything else.

In the days before the n Open, he did a media conference wearing a T-shirt which declared “F— Donald Trump”. Here was youth expressing itself ’60s-style on a big issue.

But I wonder if Kyrgios has worked through all the things he abhors about Trump, for one of these might be the new American President’s pathological inability to accept criticism. If he gets to this point, Kyrgios might see a similarity between Trump’s response to Meryl Streep and his own to John McEnroe.

Something else Kyrgios might ponder is the observation made long ago of Jimmy Connors, in which a writer imagined the abrasive “Jimbo” as a 50-year-old, “sitting alone in an airport between flights, over a cup of coffee, faced with the shards of his past. He will be a man then and he will wish that as a boy he had done it better.” After Kyrgios’ meltdown in Shanghai last October, Connors tweeted an offer to mentor the n. Now, in Melbourne at his national championship, and before the eyes of the tennis world, Kyrgios has performed in a way that McEnroe has described as giving tennis a black eye.

For this pair of erstwhile enfants terribles to recoil at what they’re seeing is significant. Since their playing days ended, both McEnroe and Connors have written autobiographies acknowledging the behavioural failings of their competitive years. Each would agree that as a boy he could have done it better.

McEnroe and Connors won so often, though, that they got away with a lot. Sports fans are invariably more forgiving of winners.

On Wednesday night, Kyrgios lost and was booed.

Yet to merely say he lost is an over-simplification. For I suspect that as his contest with Seppi neared its conclusion, something within his psyche wouldn’t allow Kyrgios to win. He was like a boy who knew he’d done wrong and that it wouldn’t be right – indeed would be embarrassing – to take the prize.

Thus, among myriad other perverse behaviours, we saw him play one shot so inappropriate to the circumstances as to risk giving the game away. In more ways than one.

It told the crowd he didn’t care whether he won or lost. And it revealed him as a confused young man caught in the spotlight.

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