Wimbledon showman Nick Kyrgios finds himself at the heart of a political row tearing apart Australian tennis at the same time as he pursues his grand slam ambitions in London.
The 20-year-old could boycott Australia’s upcoming Davis Cup quarter-final against Kazakhstan after his friend Bernard Tomic was dropped from the team, punishment for an outburst during Wimbledon aimed at tennis chiefs from his country.
Tomic has claimed he was deserted by Tennis Australia and shown “no respect” by chief executive Craig Tiley after undergoing major hip surgery last year.
But while Tomic said he would play for Pat Rafter’s Davis Cup side later this month, Tennis Australia announced instead that he had been pulled from the squad, with president Steve Healy branding his behaviour “unacceptable” and his claims “misinformed”.
Kyrgios, who faces Richard Gasquet in the fourth round at Wimbledon on Monday, faces a big call about whether to side with his friend or turn up in Darwin for the July 17-19 tie.
Tomic said following his Wimbledon exit: “It’s interesting what’s happened the last week that Nick wasn’t going to play as well. I was not going to play. He said, ‘If you don’t play, I don’t play’.”
Kyrgios’s antics at Wimbledon this year have raised his profile more than his impressive tennis, with racquet-flinging, scaling a wall to check on a Lleyton Hewitt doubles match and bawling “dirty scum” – self-directed, apparently – just three factors that have made the youngster from Canberra stand out from the crowd.
Some love him. Others hate him. Nobody is ignoring him, and few with an opinion on Kyrgios occupy the middle ground.
His tennis alone should be cause for distraction, with a string of shots in a third-round win over seventh seed Milos Raonic quite mesmerising.
Kyrgios beat Gasquet in the second round last year, from two sets behind, before toppling Rafael Nadal, and is relishing the chance to play the Frenchman again.
“He’s played plenty of Wimbledons. He’s good on grass,” Kyrgios said. “He’s made semi-finals here (in 2007).
“I’m going to play my game. Whatever happens happens. That’s what I did last year as well.”
Kyrgios may be responsible for stirring up fresh interest in tennis, with his rebellious streak winning over more than just a young generation. Those who have witnessed often staid, media-trained personalities rule the roost in men’s tennis have found the Australian a refreshing change.
Kyrgios speaks his mind, has a sharp sense of humour, and is a breath of fresh air at a time when men’s tennis is going through a period of change, the established “Big Four” no longer quite so dominant as they once were.
He knows the value of drawing youngsters into tennis, saying: “Obviously the future of tennis is important. So the more people that are interested in it and wanting to play, I think it’s good.”
The tussle with Gasquet tops the bill on Court Two on the second Monday of Wimbledon and could be the stand-out match of the day, with both men playing flamboyant, crowd-pleasing tennis.
Gasquet approves of his young opponent’s exuberance.
“He has a good personality,” said 29-year-old Gasquet. “He’s fun to watch on the court. He’s nice off the court. That’s the most important thing. He respects the players off the court.
“He’s always talking in the locker room. I think he’s a nice guy. On and off the court he’s a good player for tennis.”
Roger Federer continues his campaign against Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut while Andy Murray tackles Ivo Karlovic, whose 136 aces in three matches leave no doubt about where the Croatian’s threat lies.
Karlovic, at 36, is the oldest man to reach the last 16 for almost 40 years.
Kevin Anderson’s haul of 79 aces so far places him third on the list and the South African will need to significantly bolster that total to trouble defending champion Novak Djokovic on Court One, where their match follows the tussle between Switzerland’s French Open winner Stan Wawrinka and Belgian David Goffin.
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