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After a war on the court, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios engaged in a war of words at Wimbledon. What should happen next?
“What happens on the court stays on the court,” the Aussie said after his sometimes-entertaining, often-excruciating third-round win over the Greek. Not quite.
Published Jul 03, 2022
WATCH: Stefanos Tsitsipas holds nothing back about Nick Kyrgios in his post-loss presser
“I love him. What happens on the court stays on the court,” Nick Kyrgios told the on-court interviewer after his sometimes-entertaining, often-excruciating third-round win over Stefanos Tsitsipas at Wimbledon on Saturday.
Has a take ever turned freezing cold as quickly as that one did?
What happened on court, of course, moved straight into the All England Club’s press-conference room.
“It’s constant bullying, that’s what he does,” Tsitsipas said of Kyrgios. “He bullies the opponents. He was probably a bully at school himself. I don’t like bullies.”
“He has some good traits in his character as well. But he also has a very evil side to him.”
Kyrgios, naturally, had a response for that.
“I’m actually one of the most liked [in the locker room],” Kyrgios said. “I’m set. He’s not liked. Let’s just put that there.”
“To come in here and say I bullied him, that’s just soft. We’re not cut from the same cloth. I go up against guys who are true competitors.”
If this is love, tennis players have a funny way of showing it.
Kyrgios got the better of their match, but who won the war of the pressers?
Tsitsipas scored points for being contrite and apologizing for his on-court sins. He sent a ball into the crowd that nearly hit two different fans in the head, and intentionally drilled shots directly at Kyrgios.
“I have to say it was really bad from my side,” Tsitsipas said. “I did apologize to the people.”
Kyrgios, while insisting he was innocent compared to Tsitsipas, fired back with two practical points: (1) Tsitsipas isn’t happy that he just lost two matches to Kyrgios in the course of a month; and (2) The top players are better at blocking out his antics than the Greek is.
“Apart from me just going back and forth to the umpire for a bit,” Kyrgios said, “I did nothing towards Stefanos today that was disrespectful, I don’t think.”
“If he’s affected by that today, then that’s what’s holding him back. Because someone can just do that and that's going to throw him off his game like that.”
But it was Tsitsipas who had the edge in the broader argument over Kyrgios’ behavior, and how it affects his opponents. We typically talk about Kyrgios in the context of how fans react to him. But we can forget that there’s a person on the other side of the court who’s being asked to maintain perfect concentration during a multi-hour circus, in a way that hasn’t been the norm in tennis since Ilie Nastase was blowing up the sport—and inspiring the invention of the Code of Conduct—50 years ago.
“The constant talking, the constant complaining,” Tsitsipas said. “We are there to play tennis. We are not there to have conversations and dialogues with other people…It started to become very tiring.”
“I wish we could all come together and put a rule in place. I don’t know. Something about talking. Why would you be talking while you're playing? It makes no sense. You are out there to do your job.”
Underhand serves are fine. Between the legs underhand serves are fine. Fake underhand serves are fine. Intimidation is part of sports, though tennis puts stricter limits on it than you see in football or basketball. And there are other tennis players who talk on court. Andy Murray is almost as famous for his chuntering as he is for his playing.
But Tsitsipas is right that Kyrgios takes an extra step by engaging in angry dialogues, even if they are often one-way, for extended periods of time. On Saturday, he talked at Damien Dumusois for entire changeovers—about towels, about replacing a line judge (which was never going to happen), about how Tsistipas needed to be defaulted for hitting a person in the crowd (the ball actually hit a wall). He talked at Tsitsipas’ box, at his own box, at the crowd. He was reported for cursing by two different line judges. He called Dumusois a “disgrace” and asked him, “Are you dumb, bro?”
He has some good traits in his character as well. But he also has a very evil side to him. Tsitsipas on Kyrgios
All of that happened in the first two sets, and Kyrgios came away with just a single warning for an audible obscenity during that time.
When Kyrgios was asked if there was anything he needed to apologize for, he asked back, “What did I do there? What did I do?”
“Verbal abuse,” a reporter responded.
“I’ll get fined for that,” Kyrgios said. “Why would I need to apologize. I’m getting fined for it. Because I always get fined.”
This seems to be the crux of the problem. Tsitsipas is right that Kyrgios’ constant chatter is a distraction that should be cut short by officials. But how do you implement a rule against talking? The key would seem to be to use the verbal abuse penalty more often.
Chair umpires rarely use that power. They don’t want to be accused of making the match about themselves, and don’t want to open themselves up to Kyrgios’ standard refrain about how “the fans are here to see me, not you.” So when Kyrgios rants, he assumes he’ll just be fined. This will have no effect on the match, so he keeps going. If a player knows that haranguing an umpire at length, or calling him a “disgrace,” will result in a code violation, he would either have to stop or eventually be defaulted.
Yes, fans are there to see Kyrgios play, not be defaulted. But it’s not just about the fans. There’s a player on the other side of the court, and he shouldn’t have to survive a circus just to win a tennis match.