THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
We currently are exceptionally blessed to witness week in, week out some of the greatest, if not
the greatest tennis players that have ever graced the earth and are also privileged to witness an
era containing some of the most popular tennis players of all time too. Do you have a favourite
player? Do you prefer watching ultimate professionals such as Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras
who would play with poker faces and show minimal emotions or would you rather watch players
such as John McEnroe and Marat Safin who would leave their emotions on the court for the
whole world to see?
Obviously there are more types of player than these two examples and when it comes to
someone's favourite player, it's based on a lot more than whether or not they can control their
emotions. For the next five minutes though, I am going to discuss these two types of players. And
to Hollywood it up, let's refer to them as 'good guys' and 'bad guys'.
I think most of you would agree that to fulfil your potential, you need to be a good guy. And
obviously I mean by that, be in complete control of your emotions. Some would argue that that
isn't always the case. After all, there are always exceptions and many would argue that McEnroe
needed to get angry to play his best tennis. Whereas others would say he would have won
numerous more grand slam titles if he could have controlled his emotions better. But that's a
topic for another day, though I'd certainly love to know if anyone has asked his thoughts on the
debate since he retired from playing on the ATP Tour.
Generally, when you stay calm, you stay looser, the brain works better, you make better
decisions, you waste less energy and you don't give your opponent a vital psychological boost.
Anyone who has played against someone who has lost their temper on court will know how great
it feels seeing your opponent down the other end have a mini breakdown. I was a very generous
player and gifted this great feeling to my opponent far more often than I would have liked!!
When it comes to popularity, being a bad boy can go either way. Some of the most popular
players of all time have been bad boys, Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase, McEnroe as we mentioned,
Goran Ivanisevic and Marat Safin to name a handful. I think that trend has turned a corner
though recently. I look at Novak Djokovic who is fast becoming one of the greatest players to
have ever lived and his popularity is a tiny fraction of Roger Federer's and Rafa Nadal's. Is this
because he shows the odd bit of emotion on the court. Is it because Roger and Rafa have been
such brilliant ambassadors of the game for the last dozen or so years that anyone who doesn't
conduct themselves so perfectly will be seen as negatively? If so, is that fair?
I think Novak is a great character. Personally I was not impressed with his antics whilst playing
against Andy Murray in 2015's Australian Open final and French Open semi-final but other than
that, I love watching him play and always enjoy his interviews. For someone who is driven like he
is, always striving to improve in every single aspect of his game with an extra 1% here, 1% there,
he still makes the process look fun. I also admire him greatly for all the voluntary things he does
off of the court.
Certainly when it comes to role models, you won't find many better than Federer and Nadal in
any sport. But do we want every single player to be the perfect role model and behave so
impeccably? I love Federer but I don't want every player to be so well polished. And as much as
admire the top guys, I'm dying to hear a different acceptance speech. Sadly every single winner
and runner up speech is exactly the same. You know what they're going to say before they've
said it. 'I'd like to congratulate my opponent and his team on a fantastic tournament and wish him
luck for the rest of the season' and so on and so on. The exception was Li Na who's speeches
were hilarious. If you didn't see any of them, check them out on YouTube! A great example of an
emotional, proud, spoken from the heart speech was that of West Indies T20 Cricket World Cup
winning captain this last week.
The same goes for the interviews, though I'm sympathetic with them having to answer the same
questions day in, day out, I'd love to hear some more honest answers, rather than the polished
answers that everyone expects. Andy Murray often will give an honest answer when many would
give the answer everyone wants to hear and I admire him for that. Even though I don't think it
helps his popularity. Like with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, I'm a huge fan of Murray and I'm glad
the public are warming to him. Though he still looks far from comfortable with a camera in his
face, he is slowly starting to relax and showing more of his real personality, which away from the
tennis court and cameras, is all smiles and laughter.
Murray is also another player who shows emotion on the court, something he gets a lot of stick
for but something that he is working incredibly hard to not do, as he knows he will have more
success if he can stop getting frustrated with himself. Someone else I have to mention who is far
from poker faced on the court, is Nick Kyrgios. Nick's behaviour on the court since bursting onto
the scene has been eventful to say the least. Following his outburst against Stan Wawrinka last
August at the Montréal Masters, I wrote a piece on him and although I didn't defend his actions, I
did defend him. This piece really divided the readers with many agreeing with every word I said
whilst a large number were calling for his blood, insisting he should be banned from the game.
Whilst pretty much calling for my blood as well for sticking up for him!
It was reflecting on that article last week whilst watching Kyrgios play so well in beating Milos
Raonic at the Miami Masters that inspired me to write this piece. I believe there is a place in the
game for the bad boys like Nick Kyrgios. Don't get me wrong, I love watching Federer play, I love
the way he conducts himself, for any player I teach, I will use him as the perfect role model and
every time I step on court, my goal is to behave like him on a good day rather than Johnny Mac
on a bad day. But I still like a bad boy, I think tennis needs them. We need both. Bad behaviour
needs to be punished and not accepted but sport is an entertainment industry. I know not
everyone finds a Kyrgios or Safin entertaining but then not everyone finds a very well behaved
Sampras very entertaining. It's great to have our favourites and it's great to have a wide variety of
player. I think it is up to us coaches and parents to use the positive and negative role models to
guide our young players and children towards the way we expect them to behave.
People will always jumps on their high horses when it comes to players who swear and smash
rackets but these types of behaviour can also be used along side the good role models to
demonstrate how to behave. That's my excuse for all the times I didn't behave like I would have
liked to have and I'm sticking to that!! And those that do jump on their high horses, do they ever
stop watching tennis as a result? I don't think they do. And the Kyrgios' of the world bring in a
different type of viewer to our amazing sport.
Secretly there are those that love to hate the bad boys and who didn't get pleasure out of
watching Marcos Baghdatis smash four rackets consecutively at the Australian Open a few years
ago? Well over two million obviously did, who have since watched it again on YouTube! That is
many, many, many more times than the number of people who have watched highlights of some
of the classic matches played between Federer and Nadal over the years. I can't tell you why so
many people find that kind of behaviour so entertaining but they obviously do.
I hope Federer plays for many more years yet and I hope he inspires the majority of the next
generation to play with his fantastic attitude. The majority but not all. I will always think there is a
place for one or two bad boys in our sport. I'm a huge UFC fan and I love both types of fights you
get. The majority of them where they have tremendous amount of respect for each other, will
often joke and laugh prior to the fight and do the sport of Mixed Martial Arts proud in the process.
But then I also love the grudge matches that are the complete opposite, where they hate each
other, aren't afraid to tell each other that and will happily state how they intend the fight to go. I
would love to see some of that in tennis, the odd rivalry where they can't stand each other and
keep their true feelings to themselves. It would upset many long time, traditional tennis followers
but would also bring huge entertainment to many fans and I believe would bring in many, many
new fans. It's something I can never see happen though, what with playing the same
tournaments every week and sharing the same locker rooms, it would be incredibly intense and
the authorities would be quick to clampdown on any behaviour that wasn't gentleman like. What
is also great about the grudge matches in the UFC, 90% of them end with both fighters arm in
arm at the end of the fight with a new found respect for each other which is always hugely
popular with the fans. Which of course it would in tennis too.
Some may argue that tennis is in a great place currently off of the court. It certainly is on the
court, particularly on the men's side which I believe to be the best era there's ever been. But
some may say that tennis needs to keep moving with the times if it is to compete with other
sports. As long as there are the good guys and the bad guys, the perfect role models like Federer
and characters like Nick Kyrgios, I'll be one happy tennis fan. And if the powers that be are
looking to clean up the sport, then rather than kill off the bad boys of the game, they should look
to completely eradicate any match fixing that is rumoured to be a problem and threatening the
reputation of our glorious sport. As are the rumours of performance enhancing drugs that
continue to pop up every now and then. Increasing the number of random drug tests in our sport
would make a huge difference to its reputation.
You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned any 'good girls' or 'bad girls' in this article. The
reason, the women tend to behave themselves better on the court. Serena has had the
occasional complete meltdown but other than those few occasions, plays with the dignity you
would expect from the world number one and one of the greatest female players of all time.
There will be those of you who like me, are a fan of bad boys in our game and there will be those
that are probably still campaigning for Kyrgios to be banned. Either way, I hope this article results
in some discussions on the matter and would love to hear from anyone who'd like to share with
us their favourite tennis player and why.