We’re into the second week of Wimbledon, with its dress code, strawberries and cream, and curtsies to the royal box. The most traditional of tennis tournaments, Wimbledon is where we’re most forcefully reminded of the sport’s gentlemanly underpinnings. On its quiet, clipped grass, decorum is valued as highly as skill.
It’s a setting made for the Federers and Borgs of the world. The elegant, the humble, the gracious.
Against this backdrop, the bad boys of tennis stand out. In the past, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe played the bad boy role. The best modern avatar is Nick Kyrgios.
The bad boys of tennis puncture the sport’s genteel veneer. They scream vulgarities, whack balls angrily into the stands, and smash racquets. Perhaps not coincidentally, many are preternaturally gifted at the sport they seem to love and loathe in equal measure.
Yet with their shotmaking and on-court antics, the bad boys command attention, drawing new interest to the sport. Kyrgios attracts a fan base that has little interest in Federer’s urbanity and Venus Williams’s regal bearing. These mostly young fans revel in a brash irreverence and an even brasher playing style.
Does tennis need these brash players? Does tennis need these fans?
Maybe not. When Kyrgios acts out–making sexual comments about his opponent’s girlfriend or simulating a sex act with a water bottle–it’s disgraceful. An embarrassment to the sport. A violation of common decency.
But without the occasional bad boy, where would we be? I admire the honor and tradition of tennis, but I suspect I’d find the sport a bit wan and effete without the players who push our buttons and thumb their noses at the anachronistic courtliness of the game.
Kyrgios is already out of Wimbledon, undone once again by mercurial temperament and wavering commitment. I’m disappointed, both for him and the game. Tennis could use another John McEnroe, a tennis genius who wins majors while shaking up our buttoned-up sport. I wouldn’t want every player to be a loud-mouthed rebel, but in the well-mannered world of Federers and Nadals, a bad boy may give us just the jolt we need.
Were you sad to see Kyrgios lose in the fourth round? Does tennis need its bad boys, or is the sport better off without them?
Photo by TennisStreaming, CC by 2.0