opinion

'The problem with Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios we refuse to acknowledge.'

It was 2015 when Shane Warne, former Australian cricketer, publicly addressed then 20-year-old Nick Kyrgios, cautioning: “You’re testing our patience mate.”

That was three-and-a-half years ago.

Now, our patience is well and truly wearing thin.

On Tuesday night, Kyrgios lost in the first-round of the Australian Open to Canadian Milos Raonic, ranked world number 17. But it wasn’t the result that upset viewers.

“I don’t have time for this sh*t,” my brother, a lover of tennis, texted me as the match ended.

“Sport is meant to inspire you to know what humans are capable of. Watching him makes me want to have the day off work tomorrow.”

It wasn’t, to be clear, anything to do with the fact Kyrgios lost.

It was to do with the perception that – at some point throughout the match – he stopped trying.

In Kyrgios’ defence, he was plagued by injury. A sore knee, he complained, was holding him back.

But experts, like seven-time grand slam champion John McEnroe, isn’t convinced that Kyrgios’ multiple injuries are simply a case of bad luck.

“Does he not train enough because the body breaks down? Or does the body break down because you don’t train enough?” McEnroe said during Channel 9’s commentary.

“He wouldn’t know because he hasn’t trained hard enough to know,” McEnroe added. “You’ve got to try the other way before you dismiss it.”

Kyrgios himself has referred to training “every now and then” – not nearly as much as his competition. For a period, he didn’t even have a coach. After losing at Wimbledon, in a game where he was also accused of “giving up”, it was later revealed he’d spent the morning playing video games.

Simply, that kind of performance is not what spectators are paying money to see.

Kyrgios’ knee injury, which in his words, caused him to ‘just give up basically’, comes in the same week 31-year-old Andy Murray hobbled around the court with a debilitating hip injury, eventually being defeated in no less than five sets by Roberto Bautista Agut at what will likely be his last Australian Open tournament, if not grand slam.

Of course, playing through injury is not the mark of a sporting legend.

But through injury, undoubtedly excruciating, no one can accuse Murray of not wanting to be there.

“Maybe I’ll see you again, I’ll do everything possible to try,” the three-times grand slam champion said on court, his voice shaking.

“I’ll give it my best shot.”

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Andy Murray as he contemplated retirement. Image via Getty.
Andy Murray as he contemplated retirement. Image via Getty.

Kygrios, on the other hand, has been transparent about his ambivalence towards tennis.

In June 2015, Kyrgios said himself: "I don’t really like the sport of tennis that much. I don’t love it. It was crazy when I was 14. I was all for basketball and I made the decision to play tennis. I got pushed by my parents and to this day I can still say I don’t love the sport. It is just crazy how things go."

Something tells us "I don't love it... it is crazy how things go," won't be printed on an inspirational poster anytime soon.

The same applies to 26-year-old Bernard Tomic.

"I don't know why," Tomic said in a press conference in July 2017, "but I feel a little bit bored out there... this is my eighth Wimbledon, or ninth I think... and it's tough to find motivation.

"I couldn't care less if I make a fourth-round US Open or I lose the first round. I believe you have to respect the sport, but I think I don't respect it enough..."

These two men don't need a coach, many experts agree.

They need a psychologist.

And you know what else they need?

A break. Indefinitely.

Jeff Bond, a sports psychologist who once worked closely with former world number four Pat Cash, issued the same advice in 2017.

"I think he's conflicted about where he's at in his life," Bond told Mamamia in 2017. "I don't think he's settled."

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He ought to take some time, Bond said, and "work out what it is he loves about tennis".

The behaviour of both Tomic and Kyrgios following their losses this week only strengthens the argument that these men are not emotionally equipped to be professional athletes.

Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt, radio show host Roger Rasheed, and former AFL footballer Gerard Healy have all been sledged in the post match tirades of the two men.

And there's something that, at this point, we can't ignore.

There is no other tennis player on the planet right now quite like Bernard Tomic, when it comes to his attitude both on and off the court.

Well. Except Nick Kyrgios.

Somehow, in one generation, Australia produced not one, but two young men, who are playing tennis at the highest level possible and clearly do not want to be.

We spotted them as children and told them they'd be the next number one.

We gave them sponsorship deals before they'd even won anything.

We made the game about money when these two men didn't even necessarily know if tennis is what they wanted to do yet.

We surrounded them by people who cared far more about their performance on the court than off it.

We've shown them that there's very little consequence for bad behaviour.

We trapped them. We set them up. And their attitudes cannot be squarely blamed on them.

So, now what?

They quit and we yell that they're quitters.

They take a break and we yell that they're wasting their talent - not to mention the resources that we invested in them.

They keep playing and they lose because ultimately they don't care, and we feel perpetually disappointed.

Kyrgios and Tomic can't win.

So, it's time we give them permission.

Find what you love. Do a Contiki tour of Europe. Try basketball. Watch Netflix and eat McDonalds.

It's okay.

You don't owe us anything.

But if tennis isn't for you, step down.

Because all spectators want is to watch two people play, who love the game just as much as they do.

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