Controversial Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios has continued his losing streak, this time defeated by world No. 98 Ruben Bemelmans at the European Open in Belgium.
It’s the latest in a series of missteps by the 22-year-old, who last week pulled out of his opening round match against Steve Johnson at the Shanghai Masters — the same tournament that led to his suspension last year — and puts him one step further away from competing at ATP World Tour Finals in London next month.
But it’s not losing matches that has casts doubt over his future in tennis.
According to sports celebrity brand expert associate professor Melissa Johnson Morgan from the University of Southern Queensland, Kyrgios’ behaviour is “the antithesis of what the Australian public celebrate”.
Unlike past tennis “bad boys” like John McEnroe, she says Kyrgios’ disrespect, arrogance and the fact that he “doesn’t give a shit what people think” deems him a “sport’s marketers nightmare”.
“Nick Kyrgios is a not the stereotypical tennis bad boy that John McEnroe was,” she says.
“McEnroe’s outbursts, when you look at them in retrospect, where mostly to fuel his own fire. He was strategic in his behaviour, stirring himself up and rattling his opponents. There have been plenty of other high profile tennis figures, male and female that have sprayed umpires, lines people, spectators and their opponents, but Kyrgios violates more than just the rules on court. Kyrgios violates not only tennis rules but also people’s trust. It is one thing to fight a bad call or ask for quiet but he is prone to giving up. One more than one occasion, in fact twice at the Shanghai Open alone, he has simply given up.
“When you fight to win a game, fighting calls or getting upset, the crowd might label you the bad guy but that just increases the value of the competition, the underlying premise of sport consumption. When Kyrgios gives up he shows disrespect for his opponent, disrespect for officials, disrespect for all of those who have helped him get where he is, and most importantly it shows a profound disrespect for the paying public. He is also arrogant, unapologetic and often cites his lack of enthusiasm for the game or his fortune already amassed as reasons that he doesn’t ‘give a shit’ what people think.
She says his skills don’t even make up for his poor behaviour and attitude.
“There is no doubt that he is a talented athlete, but it isn’t enough,” she says.
“If what he was showing was passion for the game, then you could work with it, but what he has is a large dose of immaturity. Arrogance alone doesn’t command respect. You can’t depend on his talent because he frequently gives up and in the international scheme of things there will always be other players that are better than him, on and off the court.”
While other sportspeople have overcome scandal by continuing to perform well as athletes, “Kyrgios is under delivering on and off the field and it is hard for the public to find something to like about him,” says Johnson Morgan.
And fans and sponsors have already disengaged, she says.
“Fans have to have an emotional commitment to a player and when [Kyrgios] does things like throw matches and fake injury, it is very hard for his fans to defend.
“He may also find that he will run out of opportunities to participate at all. Tennis Australia has invested money in his development, tournament organisers offer huge prize money to attract players and invitations to future events are not guaranteed.
“The only thing that can help Nick Kyrgios now is to win,” she says.
“He needs to be at his best, and perform at his best and show that he has a commitment to the sport. His mouth is no substitute for real talent and results. If he can gather good people around him, train hard and fuel his arrogance through results and not attitude, then he can still win Grand Slams and save his brand.”
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