We do like our anti-heroes. We even like them when they start to mess up tournaments such as Wimbledon. Or maybe especially when they mess up tournaments such as Wimbledon.
But the signs have not been so positive regarding the Australian pair of Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic. They seem to have reached a critical juncture on the road or may be approaching a point in their careers where hell-raising on tour gives way to focus or relative calm.
Time traditionally convinces most errant players to realise their potential before it passes them by or they burn up so much energy that it consumes them. Finding things to be angry about in tennis and at Wimbledon in particular is not a new phenomenon.
Ranked 18 in the world, Kyrgios has won just one career tournament, a depressing return for such extravagant talent. Tomic, who is ranked one place below Kyrgios at 19, has won three.
The two have excelled in funnelling their enterprise and verve into the career dead-ends of suspensions, fines and boycotts. Full brat mode has now become an expected part of the package.
Kyrgios won his only title this year at the Marseille Open when he beat Marin Cilic, holding service in all of his 47 games and beating number 10 Richard Gasquet and number eight Tomas Berdych en route.
But earlier this month he pulled out of the Olympics and his persecution complex flared up once more, alleging that the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) had chosen to “publicly and privately disparage me”.
“The AOC’s unfair and unjust treatment of me over the last four weeks, as well as the organisation’s crystal-clear position on whether they want me to be a part of the Australian Olympic team, has solidified my final decision,” read the statement on his official website.
Kyrgios joins Tomic in the denuding of the Australian Olympic team and won’t be travelling.
According to Australian chef de mission Kitty Chiller, the two players had been put "on watch" over poor behaviour. She described the behaviour of Kyrgios at a Madrid tournament as "appalling" and said he didn't understand what it "means to be an Olympian".
Kyrgios was also given a code violation at the French Open for shouting at a ball boy and fined for yelling an obscenity during his third-round loss to Gasquet during the same tournament.
In 2015, he was fined for unsportsmanlike conduct at Wimbledon and was given a suspended six-month ban. He was again fined for an “insulting remark” directed at world number three
at the Montreal Open.
Kyrgios could clearly be heard saying: “Kokkinakis banged your girlfriend. Sorry to tell you that, mate.”
It was a reference to Thanasi Kokkinakis, Kyrgios's Australian Davis Cup team-mate and a close friend, while the woman in question is reported to be Donna Vekic, whom Wawrinka has been linked to romantically since he divorced his wife, Ilham. Vekic (19) is a Croatian tennis player.
When he was challenged afterwards, his answer was like that of a child.
“I don’t know, I just said it,” Kyrgios replied. The wonder of it was that he maybe didn’t know.
The amount Kyrgios has been fined is almost meaningless given his earnings, which currently stand at close to €3 million. In a tidy circular completion of the pair’s raging at the world, they also exchanged barbs after an acrimonious Davis Cup tie in Melbourne in March, although according to Tomic they have repaired their relationship.
And Tomic is not far behind in the bad behaviour stakes. During his third round press conference, following a loss to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon in 2015, Tomic ranted against Tennis Australia, specifically Craig Tiley, Pat Rafter and Steve Healy. He was angry because of a lack of support, respect and funding for both him and his sister, Sara.
As a result, Tennis Australia dropped him from the Davis Cup team for their quarter-final tie against Kazakhstan.
Last July Tomic was arrested in Miami and charged with resisting arrest and trespassing, although in October all charges were dropped. At 23 he is a little older than Kyrgios and his career earnings are closer to €4 million.
There is an element of street fighter in both players with Kyrgios seeded 15 and Tomic 19 for Wimbledon, but there is a fundamental difference between them and their compatriot Lleyton Hewitt. The former Wimbledon winner regularly flared up during matches and had a fiery temper at his disposal, but he used it to beat opponents, not himself.
This week the venerable Australian John Newcombe, who won at Wimbledon three times, stepped into the debate about Kyrgios.
“It seems to me that when Nick gets under a tremendous amount of pressure he just implodes and says things and does things without really thinking,” said Newcombe.
“Like everyone else, I see a young man who has extreme talent. The talent is good enough to get to the top six players in the world but you need more than talent. You need to have discipline and hopefully as time goes by Nick will learn that you can’t get to the top unless you have discipline. On his day he’s [Kyrgios] got an excellent chance of beating anyone in the field.”
The debate revolves around whether either player can change, not their ability. The frustrating thing is that a Grand Slam tournament win is not beyond reach, particularly for Kyrgios. But carrying himself for seven five-set matches over two weeks, well, Newcombe knows how hard that can be.
Five to watch
Dominic Thiem (Austria)
A semi-finalist at Roland Garros, this has been his break-out year. Seeded number eight at SW19, he's not yet a natural grass-court player but has the tools to become one. A big back-court game, he recently drew praise from Roger Federer, who he beat in the semi-finals at Stuttgart.
Alexander Zverev (Germany)
Considered to be one of the brightest prospects on the professional tour, he made this year’s final in Halle and at 28 is the highest ranked teenager in the competition. Zverev had beaten top-seeded and eight-time defending champion Roger Federer in the semi-finals. Seeded 24 for Wimbledon.
Jack Sock (USA)
A former US Open junior champion, the 23-year-old won Wimbledon doubles last year with Vasek Pospisil. He’s an aggressive base-line player, with his forehand and serve his two main weapons. He hasn’t punched through at Grand Slam level but seeded 27 he has the game to cause upsets.
Johanna Konta (Britain)
She has become the British women's hope and more so since beating two times Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova this week in her hometown tournament in Eastbourne. A good athlete, Konta became the first woman British player since 1984 to be seeded at Wimbledon. Seeded 16. Warning: Beware the head-wrecking serve routine.
Madison Keys (USA)
The American recently won on grass at Birmingham to improve her world ranking by 470 points. She's hitting good form at just the right time, having made the round of 16 at Roland Garros and losing to Serena Williams in the final in Rome on clay. First American in the top 10 since 1999.