Wimbledon 2022: Tennis' bad boy Nick Kyrgios is on a roll

by Martin Rogers
Fox Sports Columnist

It was just two minutes before Nick Kyrgios started complaining on Wednesday, and the only wonder was that it took him so long.

Kyrgios, the self-styled bad-boy of tennis, continued his Wimbledon campaign with a straight-sets quarterfinal win over Chile's Christian Garin. At every step of his tantrum-filled, tantrum-throwing, snark-laden journey to the Final Four, he asked the question — is he good for tennis, or bad?

It's not a straightforward question, tennis and its troublemakers have a long history. Kyrgios is an undeniably naughty boy and delights in being so, willingly arguing with just about anyone.

Line judges deal with his ire for daring to call out of grace, umpires hear his displeasure for various reasons, and tournament referees accept his outbursts because they are the last line of officialdom.

Opponents are taunted and baited with underarm serves, theatrical bows, sniping comments and multi-layered mind games, especially if world No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas showed in the second round, visibly impressed.

Ballkids get fired for not going “correctly”. Journalists who dare to raise their hands during the press conference risk a direct confrontation if they ask him about his misdeeds. His box — including his girlfriend and trainer — is also regularly in the verbal firing line.

In his first match in London, Kyrgios spat at a fan who was heckling him and was fined $10,000 for the effort. After his round-of-16 clash, he claimed that “all publicity is good publicity.” A day later, it was revealed he was facing charges of assaulting an ex-girlfriend in his native Australia last year.

If you're not particularly familiar with Kyrgios and think he's a pretty unlikable character, you won't be overwhelmed by the controversial debate.

Yet the tennis conundrum is real and present. For Kyrgios, every time he steps on court, he provides compelling theatre.

It's a guilt trip for some, but if you're tuning in to one of his matches, good luck trying to stop watching. There's always something going on, and for a sport that's nowhere near the mainstream popularity in the US that it once was, the ability to watch is worth its weight in gold.

Kyrgios' game itself is electrifying. He has a smooth racket and technique of a serve that features extraordinary shot-making and the odd drop shot. You never know what's coming next. In round three, he performed the rope-a-dope trick (his words), fooling opponent Brandon Nakashima into thinking he was injured, before coming back to life to take the match in five sets.

He is 27, and reached his first Grand Slam final in Friday's semis against Rafael Nadal. But in many ways, he's a throwback to a time when guys like John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors would rumble and use the crowd to their advantage.

Over the past few decades, the men's game has been built on trios of all-time greats instead of excellence. Roger Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic are generally considered quintessential sporting ambassadors, but for all their brilliance, even they can't play to the passion of a crowd like Kyrgios.

You'd think Wimbledon's polite lawns and polite ways might be a bad fit for him, but that's not the case at all, certainly not this year. Kyrgios' serve monster is hotter on grass, and the historically upper-crust London crowd appreciates an entertainer even more these days, arguing – with some merit – that the bad boys are worth more for your ticket price.

Kyrgios has always possessed immense talent. At 19, he defeated Nadal at Wimbledon, but he failed to live up to his early promise. Playing a limited schedule, he is currently ranked 40th as he has not wanted to spend too much time outside of Australia.

As is always the case with these types of characters, everyone has something to say.

Tsitsipas described him as a “bad side” of his personality.

Fellow Australian and former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash did not hold back. “He has brought tennis to the lowest level that I can see, gamesmanship, cheating, manipulation, abuse, umpires, aggressive behavior towards linesmen,” Cash told the BBC. “Something has to be done about it. It's an absolute circus. It's gone to extremes now.”

Kyrgios's response? He is “happy” that his success is driving people crazy – and he will continue to “do what I want”.

He's a player who forces strong opinions one way or the other, a true love-him-or-hate-him type of personality. You don't need to watch him for more than a few minutes to make up your mind, casting him as a hugely entertaining anti-hero or Machiavellian pantomime villain.

As always, the truth probably falls somewhere in the middle, leaving us with only a few things to know. Kyrgios' Wimbledon run continues, perhaps to an end.

Is he good for tennis or bad for it, the answer is – probably – both.

Martin Rogers is a Fox Sports columnist and author of the Fox Sports Insider newsletter. YYou can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.

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