The street where I grew up was teeming with kids around my own age, but just one of them was an only child. Stuart, as we’ll call him here, was an okay sorta guy; he played pretty well with the rest of the local riff-raff most of the time, he had a good sense of humour and he was up for just about all the mischief we could conjure. Solid, was Stu. But on Saturday and Sunday mornings, Stuey would morph into someone we didn’t know. He’d stride to his parents’ car resplendent in white shorts, shoes, socks and shirt (“Lacoste!” he once informed me with a fixed stare). With his chin tilted skywards and without making eye contact with my brother and I, Stu would heave his sports bag into the back of his mum and dad’s Celica and off they would zoom…all with the same conceited look on their faces.
Tennis. They were all off to tennis.
After tennis – which is to say after lunch on weekends half the year round – Stuart’s disposition seemed to change. He was less inclined to share, he argued more and was famous for storming off home, literally taking his bat and ball with him. Threats and curses were uttered under his breath. Back then we’d shrug and put it down to Stu’s status as an only child.
Nowadays I look back at his spats and walk-offs and I blame tennis.
Having never played the game as an organised spor t, I don’t really know what goes on at junior tennis clubs but I suspect a whole lot of evil is practiced and encouraged. None of my mates play tennis, okay? This isn’t an accident – I just would never be friends with someone who did. Ergo, after Stu and I grew up we didn’t stay in touch.
But I’ve thought of Stuart a lot over the past few years. In fact, I ponder his whereabouts every time Nick Kyrgios makes a clown of himself on the world stage, which seems like every other week. As racquets are smashed, opponents are insulted and officials are sworn at I wonder, “Is Stuey watching? And does he approve?”
Apparently, in some tennis-loving quarters, behaving like a petulant little boy makes Kyrgios a ‘showman’ and ‘entertaining’. Forgive me if I don’t agree that all the screaming, swearing, smashing of equipment, abusing seasoned officials twice his age and losing his mind because some kid handed him the wrong coloured towel makes Kyrgios the Hugh Jackman of centre court. He’d be more at home finger painting with his own faeces on Play School or Romper Room.
I wonder what makes tennis players so susceptible to behaving like hungry, over-tired three-year-olds. Out of all the solo sports that attract a crowd, tennis is waaay over-represented in the brat department. I can’t think of another sport that compares. Maybe golf, but nowhere near as bad.
You don’t see golfers hit a nice drive, drop their club and start stabbing a row of fingers at their own faces a-la Lleyton Hewitt. I’ve never seen a pro-surfer paddle into the beach and refuse to compete anymore because they didn’t like the score on their last wave. Racing car drivers, cyclists, skiers, triathletes et al – none of them carry on with one tenth of the bullshit tennis brats think is okay.
Nor do any of these other sports – golf aside – insist on complete silence while players get ready to serve. I say that if you’re getting paid zillions of dollars to compete in front of a crowd, be prepared for a little noise. Imagine if a Wallabies goal kicker insisted on deathly quiet while lining up to boot a penalty to win the World Cup, or if Stephanie Gilmore requested the ocean tone down the noise a tad while pulling in at Snapper Rocks. What would we say if Virat Kohli refused to take his stance at the crease until there was deathly silence at the MCG?
So I say harden up, you Lacoste-wearing, backhand grunting, high-maintenance, overly-pampered, overpaid, accountability-dodging, fist-pumping, tantrum-throwing, tennis-racquet-tossing tossers!
Back in the day in my neighbourhood, when a post-tennis Stuart would blow up and storm home in a huff about some crap or other, the rest of us kids determined not to seek him out or speak to him. We realised the ball was in our court and he was the one missing out. I wish the Australian media and public would do the same the next time Nick Kyrgios soils his nappy on centre court.