Sriram Veera writes: The madness of Nick Kyrgios

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Sriram Veera writes: Nick Kyrgios is boorish, refuses to grow up. And we can’t help but watch him.

Shared News: July 12, 2022 8:43:34 am
Nick Kyrgios has been fined a total of $14,000 during the grasscourt major for two offences.(AP Photo)

More than any athlete, tennis player Nick Kyrgios makes us question why we watch sports. Especially as it’s an individual sport and there are no team loyalties to make us look beyond the person. Do we watch sports to gawk at the unreachable artistry of a Roger Federer or a Lionel Messi, the inspiring indefatigability of a Rafael Nadal, the admirable doggedness of a Novak Djokovic? Or for the gasping brutality of a Mike Tyson and the tortured genius of John McEnroe triumphing against a battle with himself? Kyrgios isn’t even a winner, in that conventional sense; he hasn’t won a Grand Slam yet.

Kyrgios can be an insufferable, self-absorbed punk. He is also a talented, tortured man. He is seamlessly both. The self-loather (in his drug and alcohol-fuelled phase), the overgrown toddler who never bends his middle finger at the world, a man who hates tennis.

The question of whether he is good for the sport is the wrong one. It isn’t about the sport. It’s not even about him. It’s about us. Sports reveal our idiosyncrasies: The moral and immoral urges, aesthetic sense; our parochialism, pettiness, largesse, and the need to escape our mundaneness… We project all that on to players and teams. The commonality, though, is that they have to make us care.

Usually, to be kind to someone, to paraphrase the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, we have to be able to engage with them, and imagine them. But Kyrgios moves us in different ways: He doesn’t allow us to engage with him traditionally, with his boorishness, his increasingly-trite rebelliousness. He doesn’t let us feel any lingering concern about his career because he himself is out there saying he doesn’t care. McEnroe’s uncouthness (once in Germany, he snapped at a line-referee, “Didn’t know they had black Germans”) seemed fine to many as he was champion. But Kyrgios leaves us floundering. Once, to a reporter from the New Yorker who wondered why this extremely competitive fellow who hates losing doesn’t care more for winning, Kyrgios replied, “I don’t think I want it enough.” Why take the boorishness if he is not going to be a champion?

Kyrgios was suicidal in the recent past, lost trust in his family, a friend had his location on the phone to monitor him. He says he hates tennis and has a penchant for blaming the world — as evidenced by his epic rants against his own box where his family and friends sit but incidentally, no coach (he is against coaching). Above all, he possesses a fascinating self-awareness that he suffers from all the above traits.

But he is not an uncontrollable train wreck who lets his emotions totally derail him. He has talked about how he has used his tantrums to throw off Djokovic in the past. “He would look back and be like, ‘this guy has so many loose screws!’ And he would side-eye me and I am like I am right where I want to be. Because If I don’t do that, my chance of winning goes down immensely,” he told the podcast, Turn up and Talk. “If I try to be professional and outclass him, that’s not going to happen. Classy and Kyrgios don’t go together! But I know how to win.”

Perhaps he really doesn’t care. Perhaps, he is the perfect amateur, content with bragging rights, telling his friends, did they see how he f****d with Djokovic or Nadal for 25 minutes on centre court? A mortal who spat at immortality. He will push himself but won’t train for more than “hour a day”, and more than “four times a week”. Still, there would be legions of fans amongst us hoping he stirs himself to greater heights. For, in their eyes, what’s the point of playing otherwise?

But that “perhaps” is the beauty. That an overgrown kid, who seems unable to maintain emotional equilibrium, can still strut around the hallowed court, doing his thing. Messing with our minds, with the opponent’s, using his friends and family as punching bags, taunting the referees, and punctuating this madness with more than a few delicious shots and almost threatening to take down a player more ambitious than him is perhaps all there is to him.

A man who refuses to grow up because he doesn’t see the point. What more reason does one need to tune in to watch him?