Has anyone managed to figure Nick Kyrgios out yet? Inspired one minute, insipid the next, the Australian has divided opinion like no other in his sport in recent memory.
We were reminded of both sides to his character at Wimbledon this week. During his opening matches, he played with a confidence and a swagger which often reminds pundits, fans and media alike of his raw talent and genuine technical ability with a tennis racket in hand.
But, as often seems to be the case with the unpredictable 21-year-old, he then let himself down with his antics as he labelled his coaching team as “retarded” when he was struggling during his third-round clash against Spain’s Feliciano Lopez, before he seemingly gave up completely in his straight sets defeat to Britain's Andy Murray after dropping a closely-fought opener.
It is the double-sided nature of his behaviour, exemplified perfectly at the All England Club, which has earned him compliments and condemnation in equal measure during his short career to date. Unfortunately for Kyrgios, his reputation has inadvertently cost him his place on the Australian team for next month's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The spat with the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) began on the dusty clay at the Madrid Open back in May. Kyrgios’ team-mate Bernard Tomic, who is also tipped for a bright future in the sport, made a petulantly dumb gesture which proved to be the catalyst for a bitter public argument between the two players and the AOC.
Tomic "The Tank Engine", as he is nicknamed in some quarters in Australia following several accusations of “tanking” - deliberately losing - was accused of throwing his match with Fabio Fognini at the tournament as he turned his racket upside down when he was facing match point. He then caused further anger with an arrogant and ill-advised comment he made to the Gold Coast Bulletin in the aftermath of the loss.
“Would you care if you were 23 and worth over $10 million?” he said.
Questionable conduct to say the least.
Tomic may not have been aware of it at the time but his quotes had caught the attention of Australia’s Rio 2016 Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller, who pulled no punches when speaking about the incident for the first time as she labelled the 23-year-old’s behaviour as “appalling”.
Kyrgios, at this point, was nothing more than an innocent bystander. But his extensive rap sheet of misdemeanours went against him as Chiller - despite him having no involvement whatsoever in the Tomic furore - unfairly dragged the world number 18 into the dispute.
Among Kyrgios’ previous crimes were lewd comments made to Switzerland’s player Stanislas Wawrinka, where he made derogatory remarks about the Grand Slam winner’s girlfriend during a Rogers Cup match in August. It went something like: “[Fellow Australian Thanasi] Kokkinakis slept with your girlfriend. Sorry to tell you that mate.”
Kyrgios himself had faced allegations of tanking - one particular accusation came from Tomic himself - and last year’s Wimbledon only enforced his bad boy persona as he branded an umpire “dirty scum”.
At the point of Tomic’s cocky utterances, however, Kyrgios seemed to be on the path to redemption. He had accepted his 28-day suspension and had shown little sign of returning to his old ways. He appeared to have turned the corner.
But Chiller, who will be tasked with ensuring Australian athletes return from Rio de Janeiro with a much improved medal total than the disappointing haul they managed at London 2012, simply couldn’t resist tarring Kyrgios with the same brush as his counterpart. She couldn’t resist goading him into a reaction.
Perhaps Kyrgios should have ignored it. In this instance, he was in the right and was in the clear. He had done nothing wrong.
He couldn't let it go. In reaction to Chiller, he took to social media to hit back with a Tweet which read: “If you don’t want your two best players in Australia to represent your country, so be it.”
The Chef de Mission responded in kind, prolonging the unsavoury and unnecessary saga which could have so easily been avoided. “He clearly doesn’t know what it takes to be an Australian Olympian,” she said.
That was the last straw for Kyrgios. Unlike Tomic, who had openly admitted he was unlikely to compete at Rio 2016 in favour of participating at an ATP tournament in Mexico, his disappointment and anger at the way he had been treated was there for all to see in his statement announcing his withdrawal last month, which came as no surprise to the majority who had followed the public falling out between him and Chiller.
Kyrgios wasn’t the only one who had a bone to pick with the AOC as Tennis Australia President Steve Healy weighed in on the player’s side of the argument, rightly claiming that the rising star should not have been put in that position in the first place.
Chiller showed little remorse but it is her and the Australian Olympic team who are missing out. Yes, Kyrgios is a tricky customer but he is also a rare breed, and at a time where professional sportsmen are so often mollycoddled and turned into robots by overenthusiastic public relations and communications executives, we need to embrace people like him. We need to cherish his type of kindred spirit.
There’s little doubt the Australian contingent is weaker and less inspiring without Kyrgios. The tennis event in the Brazilian city as a whole is also missing out as he could have set the tournament alight had he been given the chance to do so.
The AOC should, as soon as the tennis tournament at Rio 2016 has concluded, seek talks with Kyrgios to heal the wounds and repair the damage they are largely responsible for. If not, they are in danger of losing the 21-year-old from the Olympic team for good - at his age he could feasibly have another three Games in him and he will only be 33 when the 2028 event comes around.
To lose a player of his quality over something so petulant and so avoidable would be a damning indictment of the AOC as an organisation and a crying shame; he can do something brilliant and baffling almost simultaneously, making him a captivating player to watch when he as it his best.
If someone can grab him by the scruff of the neck and straighten him out mentally, he has the potential to be a top player for many years to come. Grand Slams and Olympic medals are well within his grasp, even with arguably the strongest men’s field in history for competition.
Perhaps even Chiller and the AOC had forgotten their country’s controversies in past editions of the Olympic Games when they went about dealing with the Kyrgios situation so poorly. It’s not as if Australian Olympians always set a perfect example at the world’s grandest sporting competition. Remember London 2012? Remember The “Stillnox Six”?
Half of the infamous swimming sextet - James Roberts, James Magnussen and Cameron McEvoy - severely reprimanded by the AOC for a bonding session at the Games four years ago, which involved taking sleeping drug Stillnox, are set to don the proud green and gold at Rio 2016. They have been given a second chance, so why wasn’t Kyrgios?
Why was he singled out when it was the fault of his team-mate? The answer just goes to show Chiller is one of many who has failed to solve the Kyrgios conundrum.