Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

Nick Kyrgios renews Rafael Nadal feud – rather than focus on his own game

Volatile Australian makes good point about double standards in tennis, but he needs to take a hard look at himself

Nick Kyrgios could well have won against Karen Khachanov. instead, he lost his way mostly due to his needless row with the chair umpire. Getty Images
Nick Kyrgios could well have won against Karen Khachanov. instead, he lost his way mostly due to his needless row with the chair umpire. Getty Images

Whether it is a siege mentality, a victim complex, or a desperate need to gain sympathy, these are all symptoms that suggest one thing: Nick Kyrgios is not at peace – with the tennis establishment or himself.

He took to social media late on Friday to make a powerful point, but the post only helped to cement the argument his critics have made about him: that Nick Kyrgios' biggest problem is Nick Kyrgios.

Not long after the world No 27 was fined US$113,000 (Dh415,000) for his Cincinnati Masters meltdown on Wednesday, he renewed his feud with Rafael Nadal – simply to back his claims about double standards in the world of tennis.

The volatile Australian launched a verbal tirade at chair umpire Fergus Murphy, and was also accused of spitting at him. All this after Murphy handed him a code violation for destroying two racquets and a time violation for taking too long to serve.

The 24-year-old posted a split-screen video on his Instagram account which showed him taking 28.22 seconds to serve in his contentious second-round loss to Karen Khachanov, while Nadal was timed at 41sec serving to Daniil Medvedev in the Montreal Masters final last weekend.

"So we had a look...," Kyrgios titled his video followed by "Advantage to both Kyrgios and Nadal" at the foot of the screen.

In his defeat on Wednesday, Kyrgios claimed that the 'shot clock' was being started too early.

"So you're telling me that Rafa plays that quick?" he asked Murphy. "Bro, if Rafa plays that quick, I'm retiring from tennis."

To be sure, there is background to Kyrgios' contention. He and Nadal have had issues with each other in recent times.

They began their quarrel in February at Acapulco, Mexico, where Nadal accused Kyrgios of lacking respect after the Spaniard lost a tight match in which Kyrgios tried to catch him out with an underarm serve.

"He is a player who has enormous talent," Nadal said after their three-hour marathon. "He could win grand slams and fight the top positions of the ranking, but there is a reason why he is where he is [then at a world ranking of No 72].

"He lacks respect for the public, the rival and towards himself."

The match sparked a yet-unresolved debate on the rights and wrongs of the underarm serve, which many purists continue to see more as a sneaky ploy and less as a fair tactic. But clearly, Kyrgios took what Nadal said about him personally.

They met again in a bad-tempered second-round match at Wimbledon in July, with the Australian picking up a code violation for unsportsmanlike behaviour and describing the umpire as a "disgrace" and "pathetic" for failing to warn the Spaniard over what he claimed was his pedestrian pace of play.

Rafael Nadal shakes hands at the net with Nick Kyrgios after winning their second-round Wimbledon clash. Getty Images
Rafael Nadal shakes hands at the net with Nick Kyrgios after winning their second-round Wimbledon clash. Getty Images

Kyrgios, who has also said unsavoury things about world No 1 Novak Djokovic, has a valid point about Nadal. After all, he is not the only player to complain about the world No 2 employing time delay as a tactic to get back into a match.

Remember the 2014 Australian Open final in which eventual champion Stan Wawrinka was wrong to express his unhappiness about the Spaniard's request for a medical timeout? Well, it stemmed from past experiences playing against him.

If the bigger stars are indeed seen to be influencing law-enforcers, even subconsciously, then that is something for the powers that run the sport to look into.

That being said, it is also worth pointing to Kyrgios' own character flaws that have only held him back from achieving the things he is capable of achieving on the tennis court – which is the essence of Nadal's point. He has often come across as moody, lazy and unambitious both on and off the court. He has even been accused of tanking when things did not go his way.

And yet, he seems to think there is a conspiracy to bring him down.

Kyrgios did look to have turned over a new leaf in recent weeks, his playful banter with fans and improved focus helping him produce some of his best tennis. But his dark side returned in Montreal last week – over a white towel.

Just days after winning the Washington Open, he was dumped out of the opening round of the Rogers Cup by Kyle Edmund, perhaps due to an angry exchange with the umpire that saw him collect a code violation for an obscenity.

Giving umpires and linesmen public dressing-downs and taking on spectators, like he did more than once in China, have shown him in bad light. But, conversely, they could be viewed as being 'cool' by impressionable teenagers in search of role models.

He certainly has done himself no favours by criticising the more established players, especially when the difference in the levels of commitment shown by them vis-a-vis himself has been all too evident.

Rather than choose to be inspired by Djokovic, Nadal, and Roger Federer, and what they have done for tennis – both individually and collectively – he has done the easy, and some might say daring, thing by picking on their character flaws.

This is not to say tennis does not need colourful and controversial personalities, and Kyrgios has lent some value just by being his undistilled self. But, even though his Instagram video had been viewed more than 160,000 times by late Friday, fans will get tired of his antics at some point. More often than he throws tantrums, they want to see him do the other things – like playing high-quality tennis, and winning matches and titles.

And it is not the Djokovics, the Nadals and the Federers – or even the chair umpires – who are stopping him from doing so. It is Nick Kyrgios.

Updated: August 17, 2019 03:03 PM

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