Spectator sport

Nick Kyrgios is exactly the bad boy tennis needs

Plus: Rory McIlroy’s ankle and other great silly sports injuries

11 July 2015

9:00 AM

11 July 2015

9:00 AM

Well thank heaven for Nick Kyrgios. The lavishly inked, blinged and barbered Aussie is quite one of the most thrilling spectacles in tennis. And in a so-far magnificent Wimbledon he has caught the eye more than most. Just as he would want. Much pursing of tennis writers’ lips at Kyrgios’s behaviour during his defeat by the beautifully cultivated Frenchman Richard Gasquet, but really what was the harm?

After being ticked off for swearing, Kyrgios went on a brilliantly childish sulk, not bothering to try in Gasquet’s next service game, deliberately steering one ball into the net and just walking away from the next service. It was hilarious and just what tennis wants in my view. Afterwards he was asked why he hadn’t tried to get to the serve. ‘Have you ever tried to play a service from Richard Gasquet?’ he replied. Which might be nonsense — Kyrgios is after all a pro tennis player — but is a pretty smart reply. Gasquet himself went to town on a racket, practically vaporising it against the ground and any passing chair, but nobody thinks of him as anything but a gent.

We have come some way since John McEnroe was disqualified from the 1990 Australian Open for inviting the umpire to ‘go fuck your mother’. Now McEnroe is the Dalai Lama of all tennis commentators and you cannot listen to Radio 5 without callers breaking down in tears as they tell the greying sage what a privilege it is to talk to him. So we shouldn’t be too hard on the hugely gifted Kyrgios. He’ll doubtless be up there at the Gatsby Club with the next Clare Balding (if there ever is one) on BBC2 soon enough.

Heather Watson provided one of the great Wimbledon moments this year, daring to challenge the force that is Serena Williams, but it will be interesting to see how much further she can take it. Serena herself says Watson should be aiming at Top 10. Perhaps. Other fine British players like Andrew Castle and Barry Cowan have also put in ‘brave performances’ against top players — Castle taking Boris Becker to four sets in the 1987 US Open, and Cowan forcing Pete Sampras to five sets at Wimbledon in 2001. It didn’t do their tennis careers much good, but it got them big jobs in the media — Castle is a marvellous broadcaster. How long before Heather rules the early morning TV sofa?

Body part of the week is unquestionably Rory McIlroy’s ankle, damaged in a football kickabout with pals that will probably keep the world number one out of next week’s Open. Rotten luck for Rory, especially to miss St Andrews, but it is a fine addition to the roll call of stupid self-inflicted sports injuries. Glenn McGrath ruled out of the 2005 Ashes after stepping on a cricket ball and turning his ankle is a highlight; as is Ernie Els tearing ligaments in his knee while tubing behind a speedboat. That doughty cricketer Derek Pringle ricked his back after falling from a chair stuffing an envelope (not writing a letter, as the story is sometimes told). Ted Dexter once got run over by his own car (it ran out of fuel on the Westway and he decided to push it to the nearest garage, only for it to roll back and pin him underneath). The great goalkeeper Alex Stepney famously broke his jaw shouting violently at his Manchester United defence; and Rio Ferdinand strained a tendon reaching for the TV remote. We’ve all been there. And then there’s cricketer Chris Lewis, fresh out of jail, who was once called the ‘Prat without a Hat’ by the Sun after shaving his head on a tour of the Caribbean and getting sunstroke.

Yes, they are always funny self-inflicted injuries, especially to Aussies. Couldn’t something painful happen to those Mitchell brothers, Johnson and Starc?

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Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.

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