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Can the Bad Boy of tennis turn over a new leaf ?

The ball in the court Nick Krygios needs to step up his game  

Tennis has always had its share of colourful characters who often crossed the red line and paid the price for their indiscretions on court. We had in the past players like Ilie Nastase, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Pat Cash and few others, whose ill temper often overshadowed their prodigious talent. But with time, they mellowed and the change was also aided by the strict code of conduct which the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the men’s Pro Tour governing body, put in place. Though incidents of unprofessional behaviour have come down drastically, it has not been wiped out completely. There still seems to be quite a few exceptions to the rule, the most glaring one of late, has been case of Nick Kyrgios of Australia who seems to revel in controversies and is now seen as the poster bad boy of men’s tennis.

That indeed is a pity as he is just 21, and has been tipped as the next Roger Federer of the game in terms of sheer talent. Personality-wise, Federer and Kyrgios are poles apart. Federer is a true gentleman and an exemplary sportsman on and off the court but Krygios, in his short career so far, has built himself a reputation as a habitual offender on the court with his reckless behaviour, which includes ‘tanking’, abusing fellow players and rivals, and getting into spats with officials and fans.

Born to a Greek father and Malaysian mother, growing up in Camberra and having trained in the Australian Institute of Sports (AIS) and later in Melbourne, Kyrgios was the find of the 2012-13 season, after he won the junior boys singles at the Australian Open and boys doubles title at Wimbledon. His career took off brightly as he moved into Pro circuit for men and scalped top stars of the game, including Rafael Nadal.

To his credit, during this season (2016), Kyrgios was riding high with three ATP titles and a career high ranking of No. 13 last month. The meteoric rise also had its flip side as he lost or simply seemed to have thrown away matches without any rhyme or reason, getting into ugly spats.

The lack of consistency has been a bane on Kyrgios and his on-court antics have made more news than his feat,s which is a tragedy as Andre Agassi observed “I can’t see why Kyrgios cannot become world No. 1, unless of course he mends his ways.” In one much publicised instance, Kyrgios foul-mouthed Swiss star player Stan Warwinka during the Roger Cup Tournament in Canada last year when he made lewd comments on the latter’s girlfriend. He was served with a suspension and a fine. More penalties dogged Kyrgios, as he stumbled from one controversy to the other for flouting the rules.

The last one month saw the ATP crack the whip on the Aussie. Kyrgios was fined $25,000 and was handed an eight week suspension and a rider to boot for allegedly tanking a match and abusing a fan during the Shanghai Masters.

The ATP directed him to seek the services of a sports psychologist to get his act right. A repentant Kyrgios, after some hesitation, played ball and offered to undergo counselling, which helped to reduce the suspension to three weeks.

But would a short stint with a head shrink help Kyrgios? Is there a deep rooted malaise? Answering those questions, M. Krishna Kumar, the noted sports mentor and award winning USPTR Coach is of the firm opinion that what Kyrgios needs is a competent coach, who not only monitors his behaviour, but also motivates him to focus more on his game by developing a strong passion for it.

“Krygios typifies the new age millennial. He is from a nation which nurtures a high intensity in sports, be it cricket, tennis or rugby and you are expected to play hard. It’s difficult for millennial, like Kyrgios, to become another Roger Federer, though he has the potential to become like the Swiss ace in the game. The problem with Kyrgois is to fix where his passion lies as he has often said that he would rather be a basketball player (he is a huge fan of the Boston Celtics) , though he is so good at tennis. It is like a painter wanting to become a sculptor! So there is a conflict of interests and unless he resolves that internal conflict, his boorish behaviour may continue,” says Krishna. “I strongly feel that only a good coach, who has seen and done it all, can bring about the change and not a just a psychologist.”

Well how does one address that issue? “Life on the tour is extremely demanding and lonely, particularly for a young person. An experienced coach can add the dimensions of maturity and stability to get him totally motivated to playing tennis. Someone who gets him to enjoy the game and give it his 100 per cent effort. At this time, for Kyrgios, tennis is like another job that he is pretty good at and the question of enjoyment doesn’t crop up. When other players practice dedicatedly for hours before a big match, Kyrgios prefers to play Pokémon with 13 year olds. It only shows he is trying to find enjoyment elsewhere and not in tennis,” opines Krishna.

He compares Kyrgios’ predicament with that of Andre Agassi, who candidly confessed in his autobiography that he was ‘forced’ into playing tennis. The American ace, during his career, went through a dark phase with outlandish dressing, antics on the court and smoking grass.

“Agassi fortunately found a saviour in coach Brad Gilbert, who turned his career around and made him a multi Slam and Golden Slam champion and one of the greats of the game,” observes Krishna. Can Kyrgios do that? “Yes of course, if he finds a coach like that who gives him a sense of purpose in his career,” says the veteran coach. That indeed might be the answer to Kyrgios’ dilemma which could get him back on the road to redemption and renaissance.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 6:01:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/Can-the-Bad-Boy-of-tennis-turn-over-a-new-leaf/article16670621.ece

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