The New Bad Boy of Tennis Is Good for the Game

In defense of Nick Kyrgios.

One sure way to figure out if a new-on-the-scene athlete is worth your attention is to listen to the words stuffy old analysts use to describe him. If they include “immature,” “arrogant” and “spoiled brat,” you’ve got a winner. Whoever the lily-white pearl-clutchers are talking about is likely a bold departure from the buttoned-up athletes you’re used to. When it comes to Nick Kyrgios, that’s precisely the case.

Kyrgios is a super talented 20-year-old tennis pro whose raw skills and foul mouth have made him the most talked-about tennis player without a top 25 ranking. On Tuesday, he lost to Andy Murray in the second round of the U.S. Open and showcased the skills that make many think he could be a top player, including the 11 aces he hit and the 122 MPH he averaged on his first serves. But he also trotted out the “antics”—the tennis media loves that word—that have others wishing he’d never play in another ATP event. Among them were loud swearing, racquet smashing and nap taking.

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Taken on their own, these things wouldn’t  amount to much, but given his past hijinks on the clay, they just add fuel to the anti-Kyrgios fire. To that we say, in the vernacular that tennis fans are familiar with, poppycock!

Kyrgios is an outrageous, compelling figure in a game full of anthropomorphized Ambien pills. That doesn’t mean he’s also not an asshole. His worst moment as professional came when he was caught on a microphone telling an opponent that another tennis player slept with the guy’s girlfriend. Shitty? Sure. But it’s hardly the appalling comment” it was made out to be. And let’s be honest, this kind of thing doesn’t even rise to the level of trash talk in other professional sports.

Last month, a writer in Australia, Kyrgios’ home country, 

posed the question

, “Nick Kyrgios: Breath of fresh air or a total dickhead?” His answer? Both. But, as

The Australian

‘s Will Swanton writes, “If a 20-year-old in general society is talented yet volatile, would we dismiss him and hope for his failure? Would we perhaps attempt to understand him? Heaven forbid, encourage him?”

Tennis fans would be making a mistake by giving up on Kyrgios. They need to look no further than the women’s game to see a dark-skinned “arrogant brat” who was hastily accused of disrespecting the game and then turned into an all-time great. There’s even some indication that Kyrgios is seeing the error of his ways. He

recently said he’s learned

to “Keep your mouth shut at times.” Let’s hope not though, because when Kyrgios is talking tennis is more fun than it’s been in years. 

Photos by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images