By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
It was precisely two minutes before Nick Kyrgios started complaining on Wednesday, and the only surprise was that it took him that long.
Kyrgios, the self-styled bad-boy of tennis, kept his Wimbledon campaign going with a straight-set, quarterfinal victory over Chile’s Cristian Garin. As on every step of his angst-filled, tantrum-throwing, snark-laden journey to the last four, he begged the question — is he good for tennis, or bad?
It is no straightforward query, for tennis and its troublemakers have a long history. Kyrgios is an unmistakably naughty boy and delights in being so, willingly snarling his way into arguments with, well, almost everyone.
Line judges cop his ire for daring to make calls that are outside his favor, umpires hear his disgruntlement for all manner of reasons, and tournament referees receive his blasts because they’re the last line of officialdom.
Opponents get taunted and baited with underarm serves, theatrical bows to the stands, sniping remarks, and multi-level mind games, especially if, like world No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas showed in the second round, they’re visibly affected by it.
Ballkids get told off for not running “properly.” Reporters who dare raise their hands during a press conference risk direct confrontation if they ask him about his antics. His box — including his girlfriend and trainer — are also routinely in the verbal firing line.
In his first match in London, Kyrgios spit in the direction of a fan who was heckling him and was fined $10,000 for the effort. After his round-of-16 clash, he claimed that “all publicity is good publicity.” A day later, it was revealed he faces charges alleging he assaulted a former girlfriend in his native Australia last year.
If you’re not particularly familiar with Kyrgios and all this has you thinking that he’s a pretty unappealing character, you won’t be overwhelmed with conflicting debate.
It is a guilty pleasure for some, but good luck trying to stop watching if you’re tuned in to one of his matches. There’s always something going on, and for a sport that has nowhere near the mainstream popularity in the United States that it used to, watchability is worth its weight in gold.
Kyrgios’ game in itself is electrifying. He has a smooth rocket of a serve and tactics that feature extravagant shot-making and quirky drop shots. You never know what’s coming next. In round three, he channeled rope-a-dope tactics (his words), fooling opponent Brandon Nakashima into thinking he was injured, before roaring back to life to take the match in five sets.
He’s 27, and Friday’s semi against Rafael Nadal will be the first time he has reached this late stage of a Grand Slam. But in many ways, he is a throwback to a time when the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Conners would rant and rave and use the crowd to their advantage.
For the past couple of decades, the men’s game has been built instead on the excellence of a trio of all-time greats. Roger Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic are generally considered fine sporting ambassadors, but for all their brilliance, even they can’t toy with the emotions of a crowd quite like Kyrgios.
You’d think that the genteel lawns and polite ways of Wimbledon might be an ill fit for him, but it’s not the case at all, certainly not this year. Kyrgios’ monster of a serve is even hotter on grass, and the historically upper-crust London crowds appreciate an entertainer more these days, reasoning — with some merit — that bad boys give greater value for your ticket price.
Kyrgios has always possessed immense talent. At 19, he beat Nadal at Wimbledon, but he has failed to live up to his early promise for far too long. He is currently situated at No. 40 in the rankings while playing a restricted schedule because he didn’t fancy spending too much time outside Australia.
As is always the case with such characters, everyone has something to say.
Tsitsipas describes him as having an “evil side” to his persona.
Fellow Australian and former Wimbledon champ Pat Cash did not hold back, either. “He’s brought tennis to the lowest level I can see as far as gamesmanship, cheating, manipulation, abuse, aggressive behavior to umpires, to linesmen,” Cash told the BBC. “Something has got to be done about it. It’s just an absolute circus. It’s gone to the absolute limit now.”
Kyrgios’ response? He’s “happy” that his success is making people mad — and he’ll carry on doing “what I want.”
He is the kind of player who forces strong opinions one way or another, a true love-him-or-hate-him kind of personality. You don’t have to watch him for more than a few minutes to make your mind up, choosing to cast him as a hugely entertaining anti-hero or a Machiavellian pantomime villain.
As ever, the truth likely falls somewhere in the middle, leaving us just knowing a couple of things. Kyrgios’ Wimbledon run is continuing on, maybe all the way to the end.
As for whether he’s good for tennis or bad for it, the answer is — probably — both.
Get more from ATP Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more