Mayflies can live up to one day; the notion that Nick Kyrgios was going to take a serious approach to tennis lived for just three. Sunday, he won his first ATP 500 event, the Rakuten Japan Open, and by Wednesday he was gloriously tanking his second-round match of the Shanghai Masters against Mischa Zverev.
The world No. 12 offered us a master class in apathy while losing to (or, more accurately, holding a racket and standing across a court from) the world No. 110. Consider the highlights from his 6-3, 6-1 temper tantrum:
Kyrgios twirled his racket and looked performatively bored before a return, then walked off the court:
He dink-served like a toddler, and again walked off the court:
He also went for a shameless tweener approach shot and still won the point, as if to briefly show off the freak athletic gifts that he didn’t feel like sharing at that particular match:
By far, the most impressive work was done verbally. “Can you call time so I can finish this match and go home?” Kyrgios asked umpire Ali Nili. When booed by fans who were upset by his disregard for the match, he told one, “You wanna come here and play? Just sit down and shut up and watch.”
At a press conference after the match, Kyrgios doubled down on his view of fans:
“I don’t owe them anything. It’s my choice. If you don’t like it, I didn’t ask you to come watch. Just leave. If you’re so good at giving advice and so good at tennis, why aren’t you as good as me? Why aren’t you on the tour? You want to buy a ticket? Come watch me. You know I’m unpredictable. It’s your choice. I don’t owe you anything. Doesn’t affect how I sleep at night.”
At age 21, fresh off his biggest title of his career, Kyrgios might be physically and emotionally drained—he later admitted as much in the same press conference. And if he feels that way, he’s free to withdraw from a tournament or retire during a match. What doesn’t make sense is to put on a spectacle of boredom and then try to seize the high ground above righteously disappointed fans, when they came to watch an actual competition. After the match, he seemed aware of his mistakes:
Nick Kyrgios is equipped to be one of the best and most telegenic players of the next generation. Whether he wants to is another question altogether, and if there’s one shred of his strange tirade that rings true, it’s that he doesn’t owe anyone a lifetime of devotion to a year-round, physically grueling individual sport. But he does owe fans an actual effort when he chooses to play, and this ugly compromise—getting on the court and only then deciding that he doesn’t give a shit—doesn’t serve anyone’s interests.