Australia’s professional tennis players are at their most polarising levels these days.
Short of embodying the classic traits of the Aussie athlete (unrealistic as they probably are anyway), the popularity levels of Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios have fluctuated from initial hope to outright derision, eventually settling into the disappointed acceptance that most casual onlookers adopt today.
In other words, they’re dickheads.
Funnily enough, it’s also inspired a weird change in the mentality of the Australian sporting enthusiast. Where we were once happy to accept misgivings like Pat Cash’s bandana and the Socceroos’ pre-2006 hopelessness, it’s fair to say that few athletes in this country’s history have met the same levels of scorn as our two leading tennis players right now.
And let’s be very frank, when you put together everything they’ve done individually, done together, or done to each other, they probably deserve every last bit of flaming they can get.
“Tomic famously declared he would be World #1 and win every grand slam.”
Bernard Tomic once said he wanted the mind of Pete Sampras and the heart of Lleyton Hewitt. Instead, Australia has somehow ended up with two low-rent Floyd Mayweather rip-offs that don’t quite have the walk (yet) to back up the talk.
To get to the answer, you basically have to boil things down to what they have in common. Both Tomic and Kyrgios are products of the AIS, and both have pretty patchy history with their coaches.
Both heaped pressure on themselves from a young age and promised big things in their career – Tomic famously declared he would be World #1 and win every grand slam. With the likes of Laver, Rafter and Hewitt as their predecessors, both are also following in pretty immense footsteps.
Right now though, Kyrgios and Tomic, while still young, are pretty far short of their goals. Kyrgios and Tomic sit at win percentages of 61% and 55% respectively, while only Stan Wawrinka has a win percentage anywhere close to that in the world’s top 5 players.
As they both enter their mid-20s, neither of them are showing real signs of improvement on the grand stage either.
Despite this year’s Hopman Cup win, Kyrgios is yet to surpass his 2014 quarter final finish in a grand slam, while Tomic hasn’t achieved that feat since 2011.
To put that in rather stark perspective, in 2001 Lleyton Hewitt had already won Wimbledon, the US Open and 2 Tour Finals by the age of 21. We think that within this, there may be something pretty telling.
“Tennis, like pretty much any other individual sport, has the knack of bringing out the absolute worst individual traits in people that you’d never normally see.”
Tennis, like pretty much any other individual sport, has the knack of bringing out the absolute worst individual traits in people that you’d never normally see.
Whether on the golf course or even standing at the office table tennis table, you tend to see ruthlessly aggressive, self-destructive sides of people that are never normally there.
With characters like Kyrgios and Tomic though, you get something far worse. Instead of awakening a sleeping dragon, you’re just provoking one that’s already outside your house and threatening to breathe fire through your front door.
The blame may not lay with one single entity, either. Australia certainly can’t be held accountable for putting its hopes on the two best players it has right now.
That being said, when you have two elite athletes that have been almost hand-reared to carry an entire-nation’s legacy on their shoulders, what you often get in return is a dangerous level of hubris.
Few countries have a similar system to Australia in the way it develops its elite athletes, and in a similar fashion to what you get coming out of England’s footballing academies, the true characters of many young people that go through institutions like the AIS come to light pretty quickly once they go pro.
At the same time, humility is often taught in harsh lessons, most of which probably don’t come around that often on the ATP tour. So for now, we may have to resign ourselves to the fact that our brightest tennis stars are pretty monumental dickheads.
Of course, the direct consequences of this are very much theirs to bear, but as they offend their merry way around the world, take a moment to remember that the causes may lay a little closer to home than we think.