Australian tennis once was full of good news stories, and personalities to match.
Rod Laver, the only male player to twice win all four Grand Slam tournaments in the same calendar year — in 1962 and 1969 — and leading women’s major winner Margaret Court were in that category. Other exemplary role models and multiple major winners include Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe and Pat Rafter.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Lleyton Hewitt, a Davis Cup stalwart who had an often difficult time with his on-court demeanor, has emerged recently as a more eloquent elder statesman during his injury-forced move toward retirement.
Even during dry spells in Davis Cup play and in men’s majors over the past decade, players have mostly been respectful.
So where, seemingly, has it all gone wrong?
At Wimbledon, 20-year-old Nick Kyrgios battled with umpires time and again, was accusing of tanking and swore so loudly and abused his rackets so violently that he was fined nearly $10,000.
That behavior earned him the wrath of an Australian sports great, Olympic champion swimmer Dawn Fraser. The 77-year-old Fraser told a breakfast television show in Australia she was disgusted by Kyrgios’ behavior in his fourth-round loss to Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon.
“They should be setting a better example for the younger generation of this great country of ours,” Fraser said. “If they don’t like it, go back to where their fathers or their parents came from.”
Kyrgios, who was born in Canberra, the Australian capital, has a father born in Greece and a Malaysian-born mother.
After outrage on social media, Fraser apologized for her comments about Kyrgios’ family.
Laver told ESPN television that he thought Kyrgios’ behavior was holding him back.
“Nick’s young and maybe doesn’t realize what he is doing sometimes,” Laver said. “He’s playing with emotion … that’s certainly something that he needs to grow out of and he needs to grow out of that sooner rather than later. There’s certainly no excuse for swearing. That’s just bad behavior, that’s ugly.”
Just when that media skirmish was settling, 22-year-old Bernard Tomic renewed his ongoing messy tussle with Rafter, who now is Tennis Australia’s performance director.
Tomic, after reading Rafter’s earlier comments critical of him, complained at a post-match press conference at Wimbledon about lack of support when he was injured, being made to pay for practice balls and courts and directly criticized other Tennis Australia officials, which drew him a suspension from this weekend’s home Davis Cup quarterfinal against Kazakhstan in Darwin.
And on the day that Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer for his third Wimbledon title, and with the Australian singles players long gone from southwest London, the feud kept simmering Down Under. Rafter, responding to Tomic’s comments, told Sunday’s News Limited newspapers that playing tennis for Australia was “about opportunity, not entitlement.”
“It’s a principle I believe in and feel really passionate about,” Rafter added.
Kyrgios was quick to respond on Twitter: “Another negative comment out of Rafters mouth. Does this guy ever stop? (hashtag)everyoneisaworkinprogress.”
Kyrgios later deleted the tweet, but damage was done.
On Monday, as if the sport in Australia needed another controversy, Tennis Australia sent out a listing of upcoming matches for Australians overseas, and it noted that Tomic had a first-round match at the “Hall of Shame” tournament in Newport, Rhode Island. That was supposed to be the Hall of Fame tournament, and Tennis Australia quickly sent a correction and an apology.
As many tweets suggested, you couldn’t make this up.
“This unfortunate error has been widely circulated on social media and there is some discussion as to how such a mistake could occur,” Tennis Australia said. “We have a very upset staff member who made a simple clerical error.”
Tomic’s family said they were considering legal action because of Tennis Australia’s “continual shaming and misrepresentation of Bernard.” Tomic lost in the first round in Newport on Monday in straight sets.
Kyrgios arrived in Darwin for the Davis Cup match against Kazakhstan and said Tomic should have been included, but Australian captain Wally Masur was in a more conciliatory mood.
“We’d like to think that cool heads will prevail,” Masur said, “and at some point everyone can sit down in a room and get to the bottom of all the issues.”
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