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Spending three hours in Nick Kyrgios’ company on Court No 3 was akin to being trapped in a room with a profane Australian version of Alan Bennett as he wove all life’s frustrations, both real and imagined, into an endless monologue of rage.
Whether it was the spectators, the officials, or simply a butterfly fluttering its wings in the next postal district, he somehow turned a first-round match against a British wildcard into a baroque diatribe against all the injustices of the universe.
For five riveting sets in which his British opponent Paul Jubb uttered barely a word, Canberra’s rebel without a cause fired off rants as scattergun as they were bizarre. Jubb, a 22-year-old from Hull orphaned before the age of four, looked nonplussed as Kyrgios turned on him in only the fourth game. “You can’t f------ decide to talk to me in the middle of the point when I’m about to hit a backhand, it can’t be happening, bro,” the world No 40 snapped.
But his greatest angst, en route to a 6-3, 1-6, 7-5, 6-7, 7-5 victory, was reserved for the crowd. Already peeved by a few people crying out during rallies, he called on umpire Marija Cicak to order that one woman be ejected from the arena.
“They’re spectators, they don’t have any right to do that,” he shouted at her. “They should be removed. I don’t go up in their face during their nine-to-five and start clapping when they’re scanning s--- at a supermarket. Why does it keep happening?”
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) June 28, 2022
At the changeovers, his laments only grew louder. “So, pure disrespect from a spectator to an athlete is acceptable at Wimbledon?” he asked Cicak, rhetorically. “But you don’t accept a hat with two logos? Where’s the line? Racism is acceptable, so where does it stop? It has been happening for years.” He added, gesturing towards Jubb: “If they were making racial slurs towards him, I would say the same thing.”
Kyrgios also claimed that he had heard racist abuse during his semi-final defeat to Andy Murray in Stuttgart earlier this month. Here, he observed provocations from everybody and everything. When he was not quarrelling with fans, he directed his ire at the grass for being too green and too slow, the line judges for being too old, and even the electronic scoreboards for flickering too much, as operators occasionally dared to show the state of play on other courts.
Throughout an abject first set, which he lost in only 23 minutes, his baiting of one particular lineswoman was especially unedifying. Having thwacked a ball out of the court, he labelled her a “snitch” when he received a formal warning. “No one person has come to watch her do anything, not one person,” he complained to Cicak. “I know you’ve got fans, but she has got none.” Soon after, he said to the official’s face: “You’re the worst line judge in the world.”
It became uglier when one of her colleagues, an older lady, had the temerity to correct herself on a call as she stood behind him. “These people are in their nineties,” he muttered. “They can’t even see the ball.”
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) June 28, 2022
In between, Kyrgios did reach into the repertoire of audacious shot-making that has long acted as a counterpoint to his pantomime villainy. The trouble is that some of his extravagant selections stand only about a one per cent chance of success. No sooner did he attempt one absurd tweener from the back of the court than Jubb lashed a winner back past him down the line.
So often with Kyrgios, however, the tennis is rendered incidental by the tirades. No sooner he regathered a semblance of emotional control in the fourth set than the fury returned, with Jubb’s inspired retrieving pushing him into a decider. Within moments of the winning point, he spat over the court, in the direction of the fans he accused of antagonising him. “A couple of them weren’t shy of criticising me,” he said. “They know who they are.” It was a suitably splenetic ending to this latest instalment of The Kyrgios Show, played out to an audience split down the middle between those who love him and those who loathe him.