It’s safe to assume that by now, you will have heard of Nick Kyrgios. The 20-year-old tennis star caused a stir at this year’s Wimbledon – throwing racquets, back-chatting umpires and the infamous ‘tanking’ incident. He even hugged a ball-boy (really a ball-teenager) during a match. Add to that the outrageously awkward comments made by swimming legend Dawn Fraser and you have a melting pot for drama.
At face value, Kyrgios’ recent behaviour seems deplorable. It’s presumptuous to refuse to play because you disagree with an umpire’s call. It’s rude to mutter, “do you feel strong up there?” to another umpire because he reprimands you for swearing. Nobody is denying that this is unacceptable. However, what is also unacceptable is vilifying and dismissing a person as a “tennis brat” (thank you, Dawn), before thoroughly examining why such behaviour is manifesting.
I was a complete headcase when I was 20. So were my 20-year-old friends. We had no self-awareness, self-discipline, or self-respect, which was glaringly obvious in everything we did. However, we had the luxury of working through our post-adolescence in the privacy of our own homes, where our misguided meltdowns (mine were often toddler-esque) were witnessed only by our unfortunate parents.
Kyrgios is not afforded the same privilege. Every bump in the emotional rollercoaster of leaving his teens is captured, magnified, and displayed for the world to see, right when he is at his most vulnerable…on the court. Facing the kind of anxiety that poor Bridget Jones felt when Mark Darcy discovered her horrendously misleading diary.
Don’t get me wrong, after hearing about a few of his on-court shenanigans, I was more than ready to jump on the Judge-y Train. However, that was before I watched his fourth round match against the world number 20 – Frenchman (and sensational babe) Richard Gasquet. What I saw was something quite different to the erratic youth the media has been yelling about. Honestly, the guy looked terrified, and seemed extremely distracted by soul-crushing anxiety. Unsurprising, given the gargantuan task of maintaining his reputation, his sponsors, and his dignity on the most public of stages. Behind the apparent petulance I saw only genuine distress… and I felt sorry for him.
Of course, there are many 20-year-olds who manage this pressure flawlessly. Former world number 1 Rafael Nadal was beyond reproach from the age of 16. However, not everybody is cut from that exquisite cookie dough. Like many young people, Nick Kyrgios, with his flair for the dramatic and obsessive drive to better himself, is not yet equipped to cope with extreme stress. I sure as hell wasn’t. It’s simple, and above all, normal.
At the core of the issue, this isn’t a spoilt brat who cares nothing for tennis. This isn’t an attention whore. This is a paranoid kid, whose worst fear is not living up to his own incredibly high expectations of himself. It’s borne of the fact that he cares so very, very deeply about what he does. Patting away a couple of balls isn’t tanking the match. The keen focus and sheer determination Kyrgios displayed when he won the third set should eliminate that assumption.
My advice for Kyrgios is to sit down, take a deep breath, and work out a more productive way to handle his frayed nerves. For his own sake, he needs to do it quickly. However, nagging, belittling, and patronising him isn’t going to help. So leave the guy alone. His behaviour really is none of our business. If Kyrgios ever needs a hug on court again, I’ll happily give him one; the ball-kids are usually busy.
Image via Jockington.com