The latest tantrum by Australia’s Nick Kyrgios has attracted more than a fine and condemnation as sports stars and experts wonder if he needs help to overcome his demons.
Kyrgios was slapped with a $16,500 penalty for his meltdown at the Shanghai Masters , where he tanked points, swore and argued with fans before being booed off court.
It follows a catalogue of similar incidents for the talented but troubled 21-year-old, whose rise to world number 14 has been punctuated by controversy.
Britain’s Andy Murray wondered whether Kyrgios’s fine, which amounts to less than half of his prize money for reaching Shanghai’s second round, would have any effect.
And athletics legend Michael Johnson tweeted: “This guy needs to take a break from the game. Obviously some serious issues having nothing to do with sport.”
Petulant outbursts -- from John McEnroe, to Serena Williams at the 2009 US Open -- are familiar to tennis, but Kyrgios is particularly volatile and, by his own admission, unpredictable.
He was also accused of tanking, or giving up, while playing Richard Gasquet last year at Wimbledon, and his run-ins with chair umpires and fans are legion.
Last year, Kyrgios also received a suspended one-month ban for muttering “(Thanasi) Kokkinakis banged your girlfriend” while playing Stan Wawrinka at the Montreal Masters.
On-court flare-ups are common, and easily distracted Kyrgios often gives an audible, running self-commentary as the match progresses.
‘Backside in a sling’
Australian sports psychologist Jeff Bond, whose clients have included 1987 Wimbledon winner Pat Cash, said Kyrgios was under pressures that most people do not understand.
“Armchair experts have got no idea what it’s like to be on the tennis circuit and how challenging and stressful it can be,” Bond told AFP.
“Before we condemn or show concern he may have a mental illness, for example, we need to take into account how rigorous and demanding that circuit is.
“There’s no other walk of life where you’re filmed so intently and so closely and everything is recorded and you’re in the view of the media and the public.”
But Bond also doubted whether Kyrgios was in any mood to seek help -- and he warned that no “guru” could fix his problems overnight.
“I don’t think he cares, and he won’t care while they keep slapping his wrist and giving him a relatively paltry fine,” said Bond.
“He won’t care until he’s got his backside in a sling.”
He added: “I hope for his sake and for his own mental well-being that at some stage he finds a way to consult somebody that he’s prepared to listen to... and wants to implement some of the strategies they decide on.
“It’s awful to see somebody paint themselves into a corner where they think the only way out is tanking.”
Murray, speaking to British media, said he would be happy to act as a mentor to Kyrgios, recalling his own struggles to adapt to life in the spotlight.
‘I couldn’t care less’
“I think sometimes players do need protecting as well. Sometimes he goes into press and says things he regrets. In those situations he maybe needs to be guided a little bit better and I’m sure he will learn from that,” Murray said.
“I chat to him about all sorts of things, tennis and sport, basketball. If he ever wanted to talk to me or ask me anything, I would obviously be open to that.
“You don’t want to see young guys who are in the spotlight, struggling and making mistakes, doing things that ultimately hurt them.”
An arm around the shoulder from Murray could be beneficial for Kyrgios, who has responded to overtures from Lleyton Hewitt, Australia’s Davis Cup captain.
Wednesday’s meltdown against 110th-ranked Mischa Zverev came just three days after Kyrgios won the third title of his season, and career, at the Japan Open in Tokyo.
It dented his chances of reaching one of the most prestigious tournaments of the year, the season-ending World Tour Finals in London.
But Kyrgios, who has spoken of his dislike of tennis, insisting he prefers basketball, was unmoved.
“I couldn’t care less, to be completely honest with you,” he said. “Just -- big deal.”