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Birthplace of golf, cradle of tennis, and the 'sportsmen' treating them with disdain

Opinion

They are history’s most cherished venues for the events that keep us up late at night – but this year Wimbledon and St Andrews will witness sports of a very different kind, writes Jim Tucker

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Sport or rather sports viewing is in flux. Where once Wimbledon and the British Open were serene showcases of tennis and golf, we now have…

What do we have? That is a good question.

I declare “dinosaur” as my species but I’m an open-minded dinosaur.  Watching Wimbledon has always held a must-watch magnetism that staying up late to watch the Cincinnati Open or the Los Cabos Open on TV never has.

I also watch Wimbledon mostly on early morning replay with the sound turned right down because my wife likes to sleep in and my dog needs to more often.

It’s the best way to watch Nick Kyrgios.

That way you can admire his hand speed on volleys, the 17 aces he pounded down in his quarter-final win and the truly audacious ground strokes he rips.

You also don’t have to listen to the brat behaviour that is always at full noise with racquets breaking, tiresome volleys of swearing “why me?” innocence and incendiary interactions with opponents like Stefanos Tsitsipas.

This is not a lecture on his tantrums or the one coming up.

Every sports fan can take him…or leave him. Your choice.

You don’t have to love a sportsman or sportswomen to click on the TV to watch them.
There’s not a single person in tennis broadcasting bemoaning the Kyrgios run at Wimbledon.

Personally, they may think him a star or a festering sore on the game but for the sports broadcasting economy they are lapping it up. He gets people to watch, whether to see him win or trip on his shoelaces and crash into the net like a squirming salmon.

Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash had his irate moments on court but was never in the league for grating like the countryman he critiqued this week for BBC Radio.

“It was absolute mayhem,” Cash said of the Tsitsipas match when verbals were fired off as rapidly as forehands.

“He (Kyrgios) has brought tennis to the lowest level I can see as far as gamesmanship, cheating, manipulation, abuse, aggressive behaviour to umpires, to linesmen,” Cash said.

When Kyrgios said “I do what I want” after strolling about wearing red Jordans and a red cap to flaunt the all-white dress code on court at Wimbledon, he meant it.

What he really meant to say was “I do what I want…all the time”. He’s won near enough to $10 million in prizemoney to imagine he can do so. He doesn’t want respect or to be seen as a role model.

What has been in short supply are any tennis officials with the gumption to actually suspend Kyrgios when he first deserved it years ago. Clearly, two or even five yellow cards don’t equal a red in tennis like in rugby.

The flipside, of course, is that plenty of fans love every bit of this rebel with the flaws saga. If they have three hours to devote to watching tennis in a busy week, it’s going to be all eyeballs on Kyrgios.

Like all of you, they found a way to skip Kukushkin v Brooksby in Round One this year for the main meal.  Ignore the carry-on and just be there for an exciting tennis watch. That’s a valid standpoint too.

Bring on Sunday night’s final. Can’t wait. It’s must-watch TV. The free pass into the final because Rafael Nadal’s injury prevented their semi-final being played is just another layer to an astonishing story.

There is a thing about sporting stars with a toxic streak. Winners with a toxic streak can grab our attention. Losers with a toxic touch are called Bernard Tomic, now No.505 in the world he’s well into his “who cares” schedule.

We’ll be seeing some of the same threads when The Open Championship unfolds at St Andrews next week.  The oldest and most storied of golf’s major championships at the world’s most famous course is a bizarre backdrop for six irons at 10 paces.

The fractious golf war between the upstart LIV Golf series and the PGA Tour will add extra edge to the 150th Open championship.

The topic was a fizzer on course at the recent US Open when Dustin Johnson finished the best of the defectors way back in joint 24th spot.

The LIV Golf debate will enter a whole new realm if any of the top signings actually contend for the claret jug in the final round.

Imagine the extra acid if Sunday week’s final groups are Johnson-Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed-Jon Rahm.

It will be a straight “good v evil” script for any golf writer. The caricatures are already being penned…black-shirted, stubble-chinned gunslingers DJ and Reed trying to shoot up St Andrews and its sheriffs McIlroy and Rahm.

Again, the broadcasters will be doing cartwheels. They finally get black and white in golf, not an overdose of vanilla players with the same cookie-cutter profiles out of the US.

I’m on golfer Billy Horschel’s side. Jumping to a breakaway tour for mega dollars from Saudi sources is a personal choice but don’t lie or be so hypocritical as to want to stuff your face with cake by trying to play on the PGA Tour or DP World Tour as well.

These combustible times have drawn out some great quotes. Former Masters champion Fred Couples buried journeyman pro Pat Perez with the best line about his jump from the PGA Tour to the LIV circuit.

“I heard of all people Perez was a little confrontational,” Couples told Golf.com. “He’s a grain of sand in this (PGA) Tour. He should be soft and kind but, he’s like, raising his voice.”

At least Perez had the conviction to wear a shirt embossed with dollar bills in the design.

The people assembling the draw at the Masters do have a sense of humour. Back in 2015, they cheekily put together a “prats threeball” with Reed, Ian Poulter and Keegan Bradley for the first round. You hope The Open organisers do the same.

The English journalist doing his job at Wimbledon earlier this week by pressing Kyrgios about his poor behaviour copped an unfair serve from the Australian.

He got champ-ed.

The only fair thing is for the derisive line to be redirected at who deserves it most, Kyrgios himself: “Keep doing you then, champion.”

Jim Tucker has specialised in sport, the wider impacts and features for most of his 40 years writing in the media.

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