Cutting out verbal volleys is a tall order for Australian Nick Kyrgios as he prepares to face Andy Murray, writes Alix Ramsay
Stan Wawrinka was fuming; Donna Vekic was seething and Nick Kyrgios was in trouble. Again. The world No 37 and Australia’s great hope for the future had opened his not inconsiderably sized mouth and stuck his size 14s in there and now he was in deep, deep trouble.
Sledging is perfectly acceptable in cricket, although there are still rules to be observed, but when the TV microphones picked up Kyrgios telling Wawrinka that “Kokkinakis banged your girlfriend. Sorry to tell you that, mate,” and then, later, recorded him muttering about Wawrinka “banging an 18-year-old”, it was clear Kyrgios had gone way too far. At the time, the two were in the middle of a second-round match at the Canadian Open and Wawrinka could not believe his ears.
The Australian was immediately fined $10,000 but after an ATP investigation, Kyrgios was fined a further $25,000 and handed a 28-day suspension, both suspended for six months provided he does not incur any fines for verbal or physical abuse at any ATP sanctioned tournament or does not accumulate fines totalling more than US$5,000 for any other offences at ATP sanctioned tournaments. Basically, he has to be on best behaviour until 24 February next year or he is for the high jump.
Vekic, the 18-year-old in question (she is actually 19 but no one has ever accused Kyrgios of being good at maths), was spitting fire and could not believe that the Australian had got off so lightly. “He didn’t get suspended. It’s ridiculous. No more comment on this,” she growled to the New York Post.
And yet a suspended sentence will hang heavy over Kyrgios, far heavier than an immediate ban or a bigger fine. The money, after all, is no more than loose change to the 20-year-old millionaire who has already amassed more than $800,000 in prize-money this season. But keeping his mouth shut and his rackets intact for another six months? That will take some doing.
His first test will be to keep his lip buttoned when he faces Andy Murray in the first round of the US Open. They have played three times in the past and while Kyrgios has done his best to push the Scot, he has yet to win a set. With every TV lens and microphone pointed in his direction, the pressure will be piled upon him from the moment he walks out on court. If he snaps, he will be banned for a month.
Murray, being Murray, will simply focus on the job in front of him. But there will be others in the coming weeks who will try and wind up the big man, who will try and push him to breaking point knowing that Kyrgios cannot afford to put so much as a toenail wrong.
At least Murray has a little sympathy for Kyrgios’s plight. When he snuffed out the Australian’s challenge at the Australian Open, he offered a bit of advice to the watching public.
“I think the first thing is to try not to put too much pressure on him,” Murray said. “He needs to be allowed to mature and develop and he’s going to make some mistakes. He’s young. Growing up in the spotlight isn’t easy. He has a world-class serve. He has an extremely good forehand. But not many people have done what he’s done at his age.”
It is his fire and his impulsive nature that has made Kyrgios into the player he is today. He has a serve that could split concrete and the explosive muscle power to flatten almost any foe. And then there is his temper. It can fire him up to secure remarkable wins but it can also leave him looking like a spoiled, pouting teenager.
His diamond earrings, his razor stripes etched into his ever-changing hairstyle and his general demeanour are hardly unusual for a young man with a lot of money but what infuriates his followers and his detractors alike is his lack of application. In between beating the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, he often looks like a bloke who would much rather be out surfing with his mates – and then he plays like it, too.
In Australia, where they like their sportsmen to give everything in every match and then be humble and self-effacing in the aftermath of victory, Kyrgios is regarded as too cocky for his own good. Australia will celebrate his wins but the sports fans Down Under will not put up with his manner and his attitude.
It took Murray many years, many grand slam finals and, eventually, an Olympic gold medal to convince the most diehard, Home Counties traditionalist that he was indeed a national treasure so at just 20, Kyrgios has a way to go before he wins his detractors over.
But what Murray realised early on was that tennis may just be a game but being a champion takes back-breaking work. Five years ago, Murray might have been criticised for his opinions or his on-court language but no one could fault his work ethic. As Kyrgios looks at the Scot over the net in their opening match, he could learn a lot from the way the world No 3 goes about his business.
Kyrgios is a genuine talent but he has yet to learn that it takes more than that to reach the very top. There is a lot of hard work, sacrifice and dedication required to succeed. Keeping your opinions about your opponent’s love life to yourself helps a bit, too.