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Everyone loves the bad boy (of tennis)

Tennis pro Nick Kyrgios has lots of sponsors, all likely disappointed after his quarterfinal loss in the US Open Tuesday night to Karen Khachanov in five sets. None may have been as crestfallen as Yonex, his racket sponsor. That’s because at the end of match, one everyone assumed Kyrgios would win, he smashed not one, but two rackets on the court, a sign of frustration that bubbled over after he couldn’t capitalize on winning a fourth set tie breaker before dropping the fifth set. That means that Khachanov, who few thought would get this far, is now well poised for a shot at the title, particularly with both of the men’s top seeds out of the tournament.

Of course, the top seed Daniil Medvedev was eliminated in the round of 16 by no other than Nick Kyrgios, a straight set drubbing that made a convincing case that the mercurial and highly temperamental Australian was finally ready to live up to his other worldly potential. It’s become cliché to even discuss, but Kyrgios has the complete package of big serve, speed, and ground game that few could imagine in one body. Now, that also came with the mindset of someone who regularly throws tantrums, violated even the most basic norms, and acted like a kindergartener before nap time. To suggest that Nick Kyrgios misbehaves on the court is like suggesting that the band oasis had personnel issues. His antics include, but certainly are not limited to, broken rackets, cursing at virtually anyone in vicinity (most notably his coaches) taking bathroom breaks long enough to read an entire issue of the Economist, and maybe hitting the ball directly at an opponent. All of these violate the spirit, if not also the rules of the sport, one that currencies in at least some notion of decorum. For that, he’s quite often fined in the tens of thousands of dollars, a relatively nominal charge for someone who earns in the seven figures.

As such, Kyrgios has become a fairly polarizing figure in the pantheon of tennis fandom. A lot of us, myself included, find his act boorish and offensive. But the lion share of attendees, at least through a straw poll of fan engagement, seem to really like it. He is the non-satirical bad boy of tennis, played best by Andy Samberg in the outstanding parody film Seven Days in Hell, a quality that people find strangely endearing despite its insolence.

Obviously, Nick Kyrgios didn’t’t invent the tennis tantrum, even if he is perfecting the art. One of its originators John McEnroe is now the best commentator in the game today and perhaps it’s elder statesman. Others have had their moment, from Jimmy Connors to Serena Williams. But rarely have we seen a player whose intentions feel so childish and haphazard. In other words, when you go to a Nick Kyrgios match, you have no idea what you might get.

I will be completely honest. While I find Kyrgios’ game outstanding, I cannot stand to watch him play. This is a sign of my own age as much as it is his behavior, and I know it’s really easy to play armchair doubles partner. The tennis circuit is brutal, and there are few things more difficult than being saddled with limitless potential. But his disrespect not only for the sport, but more for those who join him in the endeavor, I find particularly offensive.

I suppose in some small way, I am surprised that a few more people don’t share my disposition. I was a bit blown away by how many people seemed to wanted to will Kyrgios to a win last night despite his nonstop swearing at anyone within earshot. Perhaps it’s a bit like professional wrestling, we all secretly love the heel. Or maybe it’s a statement on the larger discord in American discourse, where everyone gets cheered and rewarded for being obnoxious. So like anything these days, I guess we can blame Trump.

I went to the Open on Saturday, and to be fair, several of the grown-up frat boys in the audience acted no better than Kyrgios, only from the comfort of the stands. And they didn’t have the pressure of the game to blame it on – only too many Honey Duces. So it’s clearly not just a problem with one tennis player, even if he does set a pretty poor example. But for better or worse, people do seem to really like it. Perhaps everyone except his racket sponsor.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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