Not for the first time in recent years, Nick Kyrgios has proven the voice of reason in the world of tennis.
While he has received virtually every on-court warning and code violation there is throughout his career so far, it was off-court he delivered a warning of his own.
In the throes of last year’s fairytale run to the Australian Open doubles title with Thanasi Kokkinakis, Kyrgios was asked where he’d like to see the sport in five-to-ten years.
“I just think that tennis has done a really poor job with accepting personalities in the past,” he said.
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“I think they have kind of really only marketed three players for the last decade and now it’s kind of caught up with them, so hence they have tried to push some of the Next Gen guys … tennis has really struggled to embrace different personalities, like when people go about it differently.
“Like something about Thanasi when I watch him play singles it glues me to the TV, whether he’s losing or whether he’s winning, it’s just the way he goes about it.
“I think tennis needs to embrace that more.”
Different personalities clashing often leads to box office entertainment for viewers, with Kyrgios himself at the centre of many such clashes.
Kyrgios and Kokkinakis’ doubles matches quickly began drawing in viewership numbers akin to prime-time singles matches, while Kyrgios’ second-round loss to Daniil Medvedev in singles was the most-watched, non-news program of the night at the time, with an average of 886,000 viewers in Australia.
He added of his blockbuster match with Daniil Medvedev: “You look at the match against me and Medvedev, you couldn’t have two polar opposite kind of personalities going up against it.
“But the actual quality of tennis was still to a pretty good level I thought and it was fun to watch. I think tennis just needs to push that I think, a lot. Otherwise…”
Kokkinakis chimed in with “dying” before Kyrgios finished with “it’s in trouble”.
This year’s Australian Open is perhaps Kyrgios’ warning coming home to roost, albeit due to a perfect storm.
Kyrgios himself proved one of the thunderclaps, withdrawing from the event due to injury, while several more strikes came in the opening few days of the tournament as seeded players tumbled.
By the close of the fourth round, the Australian Open had lost both world number ones (Carlos Alcaraz due to injury and Iga Swiatek’s defeat), all Australians and both reigning champions (Rafael Nadal in the second round and Ash Barty due to retirement in 2022).
When Swiatek fell to Elena Rybakina in the fourth round, it marked the first major in the Open Era that the top two seeds in both the men’s and women’s singles draws lost prior to the quarterfinals.
It could well be a one-off occasion, but it has been the most turbulent major in recent memory when it comes to the established order.
Where last year the Australian public had the title runs of Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal coupled with Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis’ doubles success to mask for the absence of two of the ‘Big Three’, this year’s event has no such cushion.
There have been some shining lights as a result of that power vacuum, however.
Key among them have been 19-year-old Holger Rune and son-of-a-gun Sebastian Korda, while Stefanos Tsitsipas continues to tap into Melbourne’s strong Greek community.
Ultimately, however, tennis for the casual viewer is now in the midst of a significant identity shift, one that is perhaps fully rearing its head at this year’s Australian Open barring the familiar sight of Novak Djokovic firming for the title.
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The simple reality is there will not be another two of Serena and Venus Williams, nor will there be another three like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
The Big Three, particularly, have had a hold over men’s tennis quite unlike any hold in world sport.
The trio have ruthlessly won almost every trophy on offer for 20 years in a scarcely believable two decades of dominance.
Of the last 77 major tournaments, dating back to 2003, they’ve won 63 of them. Only Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have been able to win multiple majors in that time, earning three apiece.
The scale of the Big Three’s achievements is unprecedented and tennis’ golden era drawing to a close, with Djokovic likely to be the last of the mohicans.
Federer retired last year and Nadal’s 36-year-old body looks to finally be showing signs that he might actually be a mere mortal after all.
But this year’s Australian Open has offered a peek into the post-golden era and, as Kyrgios warned, how tennis adapts to and promotes that long-awaited next wave will prove vital to where the sport goes next.
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