If Nick Kyrgios sweated blood to down as unpretentious a rival as Paul Jubb, it’s quite unlikely the world’s most adventurous gambler would bet on him winning Wimbledon 2022, ranking points or no ranking points. And even his Malaysian mother, who once spoke of the racial wringer he had been put through while growing up in Australia might not have approved of his spitting at an admittedly noisy spectator after the match, even though it wasn’t a precedent-setting incident.
And as we move on from the disgraceful and shocking episode, it comes home that popular opinion will be divided on the controversial tennis player’s frequently resented conduct: there, of course, are those who think Kyrgios spat in the eye of civilisation, but they will be contradicted by those who think the Australian only spat it out. Indians will recall KL Rahul being peppered with champagne and beer corks at Lord’s last year and Virat Kohli, then captain, calling for the missiles to be flung back. Tennis, and to a slightly lesser extent, England can ignore the contrarian point of view only at their own expense. It, at Big W, was an ill-tempered match marked by supervisory errors which the irascible Kyrgios was obliged to take in his stride, lumping what he wasn’t liking and flaring up when he thought silent acceptance was impossible.
The offensive spectator couldn’t be got out of the place. All these, added to frequent social media abuse of coloured players, are perceived as the reasons why tennis itself is decried as an enclave of white supremacy where others have no place. Also, it mightn’t have helped that sporting England’s air is currently charged with quite raw racial tensions, given a landslide of information about how southern Asians have for decades been discriminated against within the four walls of Yorkshire’s county cricket club.
It is an explosive story that tugs even the England and Wales Board into the sad, spiteful narrative, sometimes not very tangentially. Kyrgios has quite rightly been found fault with for calling a line judge a snitch but an expectation of official fairness, especially when it comes to the racial aspect of it, in a worldwide game can hardly be viewed as asking for the moon. If it is, tennis will have lost much of its appeal. And England’s tennis fans will come to be deemed its lager lout football fans’ kindred spirits.