Wimbledon 2022: Kyrgios accused of ‘bullying’ as he slams rival Tsitsipas as ‘soft’

As pantomimes go this one had everything but the Dame. Was it the most entertaining match of this year’s Wimbledon? “Oh yes it was,” bellow some, ‘oh no it wasn’t,” others shout back with equal gusto.

Because no-one divides opinion quite like the undeniably box office Nick Kyrgios, who is both good and bad for tennis in equal measure.

His No.1 Court third round tussle with fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas had all the panto elements, only without a happy ending, as both players exited the stage with reputations more tarnished than enhanced.

There was villainy, audience participation and even some slapstick, Kyrgios adding an extra trick to his trademark underarm serve by doing it between his legs.

This was a heated and acrimonious three hour wrestling match – the terse handshake on conclusion was so cold it was surprising neither lost a finger to frostbite.

And while it was over in four sets – Kyrgios winning 6-7 6-4 6-3 7-6 – the spiciest exchanges came in the press conferences that followed, Tsitsipas slamming his opponent as a ‘bully’ in a series of thumping verbal forehands that didn’t miss the target.

In response the Australian labelled his rival ‘soft’ – the gentleman’s singles all get rather, ungentlemanly, in SW19.

Kyrgios’s picked up a £8,211 for his first round antics and that could be small change compared to what’s heading his way after this Saturday night scrap.

Both players picked up code violations, Kyrgios for his bad language and Tsitsipas for slamming a ball into the crowd with frustration.

That act had the Australian raging, claiming his opponent should have been immediately defaulted the match.

He fumed at officials, labelling them both ‘dumb’ and a ‘disgrace’ – there were other words too, all requiring asterisks to print.

It seemed he had a point, until you remember Kyrgios himself fired a ball into a crowd, striking a nine-year-old child, during a doubles match at this year’s Australian Open, and wasn’t thrown out

“It’s constant bullying, that’s what he does,” said Tsitsipas.

“He bullies the opponents and he was probably a bully at school himself. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like people that put other people down.

“I really hope all us players can come up with something and make this a cleaner version of our sport, so this kind of behaviour is not accepted, not allowed and not tolerated.

“Every point there was something going on the other side of the net. It’s his way of manipulating the opponent and distracting you. There’s no other player who does that.

“It needs to stop, it’s not okay. Somebody needs to sit down with him. I’m not used to playing this way. I can’t just sit there and act like a robot.

“He has some good traits in his character, as well but he also has a very evil side to him, which if it’s exposed, it can really do a lot of harm and bad to the people around him.

“I don’t think he could play without having a circus around. It’s just the way he likes things being done, like he’s on his own terms, his own way.”

Kyrgios – as expected – didn’t back down. It’s hard to know whether he simply doesn’t care or is just someone who deep inside desperately wants to be loved.

“I’m not sure how I bullied him,” he insisted. “He was the one hitting balls at me, he was the one that hit a spectator, he was the one that smacked it out of the stadium.

“He’s soft, to come in here and say I bullied him, that’s just soft. We’re not cut from the same cloth, I go up against guys who are true competitors.

“I’m good in the locker room. I’ve got many friends, just to let you know. I’m actually one of the most liked.

“I did nothing towards Stefanos today that was disrespectful, I don’t think. Maybe he should figure out how to beat me a couple more times first.

“We just really need to stop putting us on the same level of behaviour. I always get fined but I’m very keen to see what he will get after today.”

You sense we won’t get long to wait for that, the lights were burning deep into the night in the All England Club’s referees’ office.

Meanwhile, Kyrgios will play unseeded American Brandon Nakashima for a place in the quarter-finals, a stage he has not reached since his first trip to Wimbledon in 2014. Beyond that a last eight clash with fellow Australian Alex de Minaur could lurk.

He fulfilled his media duties in a t-shirt emblazoned with the image of basketball bad boy Denis Rodman.

“I create havoc and create destruction,” the basketball bad boy once said.

Kyrgios is certainly living that quote at SW19.

PHOTO CAPTION: Australia’s Nick Kyrgios reacts during his third round match against Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas at Wimbledon (Reuters via Beat Media Group subscription)

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