Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon reviews a recent Goran Ivanisevic interview.
We’ll throw out a random name out there, and you tell us if it rings any bell: Goran Ivanisevic, remember?
Sure, you do. Ivanisevic is an ex-Croatian pro whose claim to fame was winning the 2001 Wimbledon title after three previous losses in the final as an unseeded player. Rings a bell yet? Ivanisevic made it as high as No. 2 in the world with his wonky and unique serve windup and short temper that he somehow translated into 22 career titles and over $19 million in prize money.
I mean, just look at this here.
Not bad for a career. Now we remember, right?
Well the great ex-pro never really left our collective consciousness since his retirement, notably working as a coach in the recent years and leading to his biggest career triumph of Marin Cilic at the 2014 US Open. And he was in the news this past week: the 47-year-old gave an interview to French tennis blog We Love Tennis. (The entire interview is transcribed in French, but luckily for you French is our native tongue so we can give you some of the highlights in English below.)
True to form, the Croatian gave us all something to talk about; the interview is perfectly fine and he and the host touch on a slew of subjects, but all anyone wants to talk about understandably is what Ivanisevic says about one Nick Kyrgios.
To me, it’s entirely “too much” what Kyrgios said of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. All the players spend the entire year together on the tour, on the courts, so I don’t think you should ever critique your colleagues. It’s not what I’d consider fair play. You can have your preferences, but there’s no need to say anything publicly.
In the world of men’s tennis, where the above referenced supposedly victims of Kyrgios slights prove to us every week and over the years, this type of quote qualifies as an absolute atomic bomb. And folks ran with it.
It’s really, unfortunately, par for the course when it comes to the broader discourse on Nick Kyrgios, resident tennis bad boy. In the same interview, Ivanisevic also explains that the Australian “bothers him because he has the true talent to become World No. 1 one day.”
How do we say this but, erm, so what?
This, all of this, infuriates us, and we’re not strictly saying this because it comes from a player we loved in his playing days. Like so others when they speak of Kyrgios, Ivanisevic oozes judgment toward the youngster—as if there is something wrong with a 24-year-old who’s among the top 50 in the world at his profession, who’s captured five career titles and a hearty $7 million USD in prize money.
Over the years, Kyrgios has been earnest and honest about his love for tennis, or lack thereof, and the fact that he treats the sport like the job that it is. Kyrgios is a deeply human tennis player in a sport that’s by and large devoid of them, yet somehow he’s the problem?
This isn’t right.
It’s also not right for Ivanisevic, or anyone else really, to jump on Kyrgios for criticizing his opponents when the same opponents will do the exact same thing and won’t be criticized themselves. Look, here’s Nadal saying to the entire world that the 24-year-old “has talent, but,” which is as backhand of a compliment if we’ve ever seen one.
Unfortunately, Ivanisevic otherwise gets Kyrgios—like, profoundly gets him. Look, here’s what he says about tennis in general. “I prefer discussing players with strong personalities because we need different characters on tour,” he says in the same interview. “Tennis is an individual sport, and this can quickly become boring.”
One other thing Ivanisevic adds is that he knows, “[Kyrgios] is a special person but that he’s good for tennis.”
In the end, this really should be the only thing that matters and maybe it’s time we reflect this on the way we treat Kyrgios—he’s just like everyone else, even if he’s different.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG