TENNIS – FROM ONE BAD BOY TO ANOTHER: JIMMY CONNORS SHOULD BE NICK KYRGIOS’ COACH
Tennis fans are used to witnessing players with bad tempers.
Tantrums, rants and complete meltdowns are not uncommon. Neither is abuse to racquets, officials and even reporters.
And, hey – it’s understandable. Tennis is a difficult sport particularly for the singles player in tight moments. We get it and that’s why we accept most of the bad behaviors.
Plus, the outbursts can be downright entertaining. Who didn’t enjoy when John McEnroe lashed out in disgust when he thought a call was wrong? It happened so often during his 15-year career that he trademarked his impassioned catchphrase “You cannot be serious!”
Even Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Andy Roddick have been known to lose their cool and go on a tirade, or two.
If you like that kind of thing (and I admit I do a little bit), we’re in luck. The next generation of tennis elite has someone to carry that naughty torch into the future: 21-year old Australian Nick Kyrgios.
Since he turned pro in 2013, Kyrgios has been wowing us with his incredible talent, but he has also done more than his fair share of destruction to racquets, mocking of chair umpires, and putting up big stinks.
However, he has taken the bad boy attitude to a new level and sometimes over the line, especially when he has argued directly with audiences in attendance, said surly things to fellow players to get under their skins, and most disturbingly – stopped competing during matches.
Just this past weekend, Kyrgios got into a tiff with the fans of his Miami Open semi-final match versus Roger Federer when he yelled “Shut Up!” to the crowd and then “Oh my god, shut up“, “Shut the f*** up. What the f*** are you doing?”
In all fairness to Kyrgios, it did appear the Miami crowd was very pro-Federer and took every moment they could to exasperate the Aussie. And, some tennis insiders noticed what they perceived to be “unfair booing” towards Kyrgios in that match.
Sadly, Kyrgios’ consistently repugnant behaviors are causing fans to dislike him and turn on him, which ultimately could effect his play.
I’m not in that camp yet, because I respect the God-given talent and raw power he possesses. And, I agree with experts who think he’s a Top 5 talent and a new star that could bring tennis into the next era.
Like watching golf, many of us don’t just tune into tennis for entertainment purposes, we marvel at the pure technique and talent that some players have and frankly, we don’t.
But, the fact is that while Kyrgios’ may be ranked #16 in the world and on the rise, I fear that his behaviors could hold him back from realizing his potential to become a once-in-a-generation talent.
The good news is that it’s not too late for him.
He could start with getting himself a coach who could show him the way. The ideal candidate would be someone who has been there and might understand how to help him harness his talent while getting through to his enigmatic mind.
The perfect fit for him in this regard, could be Jimmy Connors.
Much like Kyrgios is today, Connors was fiery and controversial during his time. He was known to be “crass”, a “jerk” who yelled & swore, tried to intimidate other players, went on endless rants, and made crude gestures which got him suspended.
At the same time, Connors managed to win 109 singles titles (still the most in men’s tennis history) and 8 Grand Slams including 5 US Open Titles. He was also the #1 ranked player in the world for 159 consecutive weeks, and he never fell out of the top 10 during his nearly 17-year career.
What sticks out most, however, was Connors relationship with tennis audiences. During a 1995 Charlie Rose interview, he admitted that he did not have an easy time with crowds early on in his career. But, he managed to turn it around and ultimately connected with them, because they liked the way he played along with his attitude and hard work.
In fact, Connors said with regards to NY fans in particular, he fed off their “excitement and enthusiasm” and that brought the best out of him.
I think this is vital for Kyrgios if he’s going to be successful going forward. He needs to find a way to get the audience on his side and use that energy towards beating his opponents. I don’t think he realizes this yet and it shows, because he continues to fight with them like he did this past weekend.
If anything, Kyrgios should have learned during that match with Federer (who is so beloved), that when the crowd likes a player, they’ll stand up for him, cheer for him and carry him on their backs.
He also needs to understand that we tennis fans respect players who work hard and do what Connors said he did during his career, “I spilled my blood and guts out there”. If Kyrgios continues to lack motivation and give up when the going gets tough, he’ll never survive.
Connors was a tireless, diligent and determined player. These are skills he could teach Kyrgios.
Also, in his 2013 autobiography “The Outsider”, Connors spoke about coming from blue collar roots in East St. Louis and having his mom as his coach. She taught him to be tough and fight back against everyone else who was likely bigger than him (he was only 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds soaking wet). He was made fun of for both, but admitted that he wanted to show the world through his on-court play that he had power. So, he worked hard on his fitness and quality of play.
Meanwhile, he understood the showmanship side of tennis and fed into that “hell-raiser” quality that audiences liked about him. This is ultimately what Kyrgios could learn from Connors – how to balance being the showman, tap into the proper motivation, and work hard to get to the top.
In October of last year, Connors tweeted that he wanted to help Kyrgios learn to “play, excite, and to win!!” Whether the up-and-comer wants to take this offer seriously or not, is up to him.
But I wonder – what has he got to lose?
Meanwhile, Kyrgios is without a coach and is playing well now. Unfortunately, without many friends in the tennis world (including audiences) there’s only so far he can go.