Sport Tennis Garry Linnell: Why Kyrgios is destined to be a footnote rather than a real headline act

Garry Linnell: Why Kyrgios is destined to be a footnote rather than a real headline act

Nick Kyrgios seems to pick on easy targets. Photo: Getty
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You had better believe it. In a world of frauds and poseurs and overhyped superstars, Australia’s outstanding male tennis player, Nick Kyrgios, is a refreshing change.

He’s the real thing. A genuine dickhead.

Hard to find an authentic one these days. So trust me when I tell you that Kyrgios is an original.

After all, it takes one to know one.

Years ago while editing The Bulletin magazine I was summoned to the office of its owner, Kerry Packer. Being hauled before his presence was like being invited to a Jeffrey Epstein dinner. Nice to be in proximity of power and wealth. But nothing good could ever come of it.

Packer was unhappy with the cover story of that week’s issue and he wanted to vent his displeasure. It was only a year or so before his death and while his skin might have been rice-paper thin, his eyes were hard and mean.

He made me stand before his desk like a schoolboy hauled into the principal’s office. As cigarette smoke rose in curls around his face, the moisture drained from my mouth and my tongue turned to sandpaper.

He finally cleared his throat, looked up and stared into my eyes.

Nothing good ever came out of being summoned to Kerry Packer’s office. Photo: Getty

“Son, were you born a dickhead or did you become one when I hired you?”

There was only one answer. I shrugged and said I must have been born one because he wasn’t the first person to make such an assessment.

So let’s not have an argument over this. I have much expertise in this area.

Bestowing official dickhead status on Nick Kyrgios is a real shame because so many of us held out a lot of hope for him.

He was, after all, what tennis urgently required – an explosive if erratic talent who could bring excitement and pizazz to a sport sorely needing it.

Tennis sold its soul a long time ago which is why, with a few exceptions, it has become nothing more than a blur of endless baseline rallies and meaningless tournaments that serve as little more than advertising and marketing platforms for car and sportswear manufacturers.

Kyrgios was going to be the antidote to this unimaginative, dull and insipid game. The earrings and the carefully shaved eyebrows and all the rap star trappings were an added bonus.

He was straight out of Central Casting, the guy in the black cape who would become what McEnroe was to Borg; the anti-hero who would inspire a new generation and return tennis to its must-watch status of the 1970s and ‘80s.

But now the evidence is compelling. Kyrgios won’t be able to save tennis. He has talent but no heart. He has skill and more than a little charisma. But you wonder about the brain. He doesn’t seem smart enough to understand the power and influence he could command.

Bad manners and egotistical selfish behaviour can be forgiven. McEnroe was often boorish and undisciplined and downright rude at times. But most fans forgave those faults because they saw them as the distasteful but inevitable flaws suffered by any genius.

McEnroe might have loudly cursed and started petty arguments with referees, but he was also a desperate man, a professional who lunged for every ball and played every minute on court as though his life hung in the balance.

Kyrgios, by comparison, is a lightweight. He is suckered into arguments with spectators. And he picks on easy targets, those who can’t fight back and make a stand against him.

Nick Kyrgios argues with the referee during a match between Rafael Nadal as part of the Telcel Mexican Open 2019. Photo: Getty

Last weekend at the US Open, as he bowed out of Grand Slam contention again, he labelled a linesman a “whistleblower”.

He complained about his eyesight under the lights and requested eyedrops.

He complained about spending too much time playing a first-person shooter video game. “Call of Duty has ruined me,” he told his coaching staff.

He appeared listless and disinterested. “I don’t even want to be here, bro,” he said. “I just wanna be home.”

A sentiment he now shares with the rest of us.

Tennis officialdom is currently weighing up whether to suspend Kyrgios for up to 12 months for an endless succession of major offences. In the past it might have been a tough decision because the sport well knows it has very few male players who are genuine ticket sellers.

But it has no choice now because who wants to pay to watch some guy not giving his best? It is what makes Kyrgios a footnote rather than a real headline act.

He’s not a genuine contender.

All that talent and ability is swamped by truculence and an unwillingness to go hard – to do the things McEnroe did in every match and in every minute on court.

And it’s why Nick Kyrgios, a young man who could achieve just about anything he wanted, has become something else.

A genuine dickhead. Welcome to the club, fella.

Garry Linnell was director of News and Current Affairs for the Nine network in the mid-2000s. He has also been editorial director for Fairfax and is a former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Bulletin magazine.

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