July 10, tennis fans everywhere watched Serb Novak Djokovic play Australian Nick Kyrgios in the men’s Wimbledon final. After a close match, Djokovic won in four sets, robbing Kyrgios of the opportunity to win his first Grand Slam.
However, the events of the match were not limited to the tennis itself. Throughout, Kyrgios argued with the referees, yelled at fans (including a woman he accused of having “over 700 drinks”) and behaved as though “having a tantrum.”
In an act of forthright disobedience after the match, Kyrgios broke Wimbledon’s all-white dress code by donning a bright red hat before accepting his runner-up trophy from Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton. Such an act was outrageous to tennis purists, who claimed Kyrgios was intentionally being disrespectful to the Duchess herself, as well as directly “insulting tradition.”
However, the hot-headed and defiant behavior Kyrgios showcased at Wimbledon this year is nothing new. In fact, over the course of his nine-year career, he has garnered more fines for his behavior on court than any player in ATP history. The total amounts to a whopping $544,000, and in 2019, he was fined $113,000 in a single match due to five separate incidents of unsportsmanlike conduct, including a lengthy “expletive-laden” rant detailing how umpire Fergus Murphy was “the worst, hands down” and a “f—— tool.”
He has also been fined countless times for slamming his racket, making vulgar gestures and blatantly disrespecting fans, players and officials. Due to his behavior, Kyrgios has been suspended from playing for weeks at a time and forced to forfeit prize money.
However, despite these punishments, it is still expected by fans and announcers every time Kyrgios takes the court that he will play aggressively and impulsively. This is not only in terms of his playing style, but also by how he conducts himself during changeovers when provoked by the audience and on-court calls he perceives as being incorrect. Kyrgios has many devout fans who applaud him for being refreshingly authentic and real in a sport where athletes are typically very reserved in terms of etiquette.
The actions of Kyrgios bring about questions regarding the history of the conventions of professional tennis and challenge the necessity of their restrictiveness. The unspoken customs of tennis, which are viewed by some to be pretentious and outdated, have grown to be widely accepted as well-mannered and appropriate. These include always shaking hands with one’s opponent after a match, respecting the calls of umpires and the opposing player, staying quiet throughout the match and never brandishing one’s racket.
Even the behavior of fans attending matches is strictly monitored by unvoiced expectations of etiquette, as they are not supposed to speak or yell, nor outwardly cheer for one player more than another. In an ideal match based around typical tennis etiquette, the only noises throughout the hours players are on court would be the sound of the tennis ball being hit back and forth, words uttered by the umpire and tasteful clapping from the audience every once in a while.
However, even though all tennis players know these conventions exist and also understand that any slight breach will result in substantial fines, almost every professional has thrown their racket on the ground at least once or perhaps yelled back at a drunk fan jeering at them. The likes of Djokovic, Serena Williams and Roger Federer have all received fines for disrespectful behavior on court.
So is Kyrgios out of line for his actions, or is tennis etiquette outdated in its lack of sympathy toward human emotion? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between.
“He might not be perfect, but he is relatable, and the more relatable players are at the professional level, the better for the sport as a whole,” said sports journalist Daniel Tran.