It seems one of the rituals of modern sports that’s become mandatory is the post-match court-side selfie. In the IPTL, which is a team tournament, this becomes a group photograph. And so, moments after beating Edouard Roger Vasselin 6-5 and leading the Singapore Slammers franchise to a 30-22 win over the Phillipine Mavericks, Nick Kyrgios, tried to fit into the team frame.
The Slammers teammates quickly know how they wish to record themselves. Dreadlocked Dustin Brown and Carlos Moya both decide on the ‘excited mouth agape’ look. Brazilian Marcelo Melo who’s holding the camera figures he’ll go with the ‘I’m confused and nervous about who all are behind me’ face. Belinda Bencic and Karolina Pliskova stick to the safe ‘smile at the camera’ look. Its all meant to deliver the sort of PG photograph, you can show to your grandmother.
Kyrios stand outs. He’s standing on a bench so he towers over everyone else. Unlike the others who are wearing their team jerseys neatly buttoned, the Australian is in a red t-shirt. It’s sleeveless although, the ripped edges suggest it didn’t start out that way. The 20-year-old Kyrgios starts with a regular family friendly grin, which morphs into a chin thrust out that telegraphs faux aggression. He’s not satisfied though and decides to flex his right bicep. Eventually when shutter is pressed, he adds a military salute while delivering the thousand yard stare somewhere off into the distance.
His pose is so hypermasculine that it’s almost a parody. Yet Kyrgios manages to pull it off it off. Few in modern tennis professionals can. Most stars have good guy played down to the point of blandness. Few can accuse Kyrgios of that either on or off the field. It didn’t help that his breakthrough moment — beating Rafael Nadal in the 2014 Wimbledon – included an outrageous tweener drop. There have been similar moments of brilliance this year as well. He won a five-set thriller to make the quarter-finals of the Australian Open – becoming the first teenager to reach two Grand Slam last eight. He saved two match points against Roger Federer before beating him on clay at the Madrid Open. That match though was typical Kyrgios as he fought both the Swiss and a meltdown against the referee Mohamed Lahyani.
That spat marked decidedly innocent days before he shot his mouth off again and again. The ugly Rogers Cup fracas against Stanislas Wawrinka left his reputation in the trash. The unsavoury sledging cost him a $10,000 fine, the likely hood of more penalties and a suspended sentence. It also overshadowed a stunning season when he leaped 22 places to break into the top 30.
Ups and down
Kyrgios though says he has no qualms about the season. “I knew at the start of the year that I was going to have my ups and downs. I’ve learned so many things this year. I have no regrets about the journey I have had this season,” he said after the match.
And while its won him many haters, Kyrgios added he wouldn’t focus on toning down his on court behaviour. “I’m not going to be a robot,” he said. Indeed he was anything but in his singles match on Friday. Against Vesselin, he applauded a drop volley that left him 15-30 down on the Frenchman’s serve in the seventh game. Two points later he bounced his racquet on the court after hitting a backhand long. While the set went on serve, Kyrgios opened up an early lead in the tie-break and always had a comfortable cushion winning 6-5 (2).
Kyrgios is the team’s key men’s singles player in India. However this is unlikely to be the case for the rest of the season. Andy Murray is expected to join the team for the Dubai leg. And while he hasn’t played yet, Wawrinka too is part of the Singapore franchise.
This might appear an awkward situation considering the bad blood between the two players last year. Kyrgios however insists he will be as professional as possible. “We’ve both moved on. Stan’s an unbelievable tennis player. If I do play with him, he’ll probably be the singles player. I’ll do everything I can to support him. I’ll fetch his towel, get him his drink if I have to,” he says.
And while this may not fit in with his bad-boy image, the Australian says that’s because he isn’t one at all. “I don’t think I’m a bad boy. To be honest, I am not a bad boy at all. I just go out there to win the match and sometime my emotions get the best out of me,” he says. And if it means his reputation suffers, he is willing to deal with it. “I’m competitive, I play to win.so whether it’s a game of chess or football, I play to win,” he says.