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SYDNEY – That latest outburst from Nick Kyrgios has commentators and critics in Australia divided over whether the young tennis prodigy's career would be better served by a harsher punishment or a reassuring hug.
The 21-year-old Australian was fined a total of $16,500 for tanking — or showing a "lack of best efforts" — unsporting conduct and verbally abusing a spectator during a bizarre second-round exit at the Shanghai Masters. Some critics wondered why it didn't warrant a ban.
After rushing through a 6-3, 6-1 loss to German qualifier Mischa Zverev, when he failed to put any speed on some serves, started walking off court at one point before the return crossed the net and was cautioned by the chair umpire about his conduct as a professional, Kyrgios responded angrily to the taunt of a fan by shouting, "You want to come here and play?"
In a post-match interview, he said he didn't care about the crowd reaction because he didn't owe them anything. It was a day after his opening win, when he said he was tired and bored and didn't really get time to savor his title-winning run in Tokyo on the weekend.
It's just the latest run-in with the tennis authorities. Last year, he also insulted two-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka during a match in Montreal with crude remarks. He received $12,500 in fines for that, as well as a suspended 28-day ban and a potential further $25,000 fine if he picked up any other major offenses over the following six months. His probation for that ended in February.
He attracted criticism for his performances at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Open, for deciding not to play at the Olympics because of a spat with an Australian team official, and for firing back at retired players who've offered advice.
For some, the unpredictable tantrums and volatile swings add some seat-of-your-pants entertainment to the game. Tennis traditionalists tend to be scathing of the behavior. All agree he's got talent, and that maybe a bit of time out would do Kyrgios no harm.
Jeff Bond, who worked as a psychologist at the Australian Institute of Sport for 22 years, said Kyrgios had earned enough that the fine likely wouldn't deter more meltdowns.
"Does he care about the fine? No he doesn't," Bond told Australian Associated Press. "If it was a suspension he might (care), but not a monetary fine.
"People who are high on self-confidence, you know the 'me, me, me' thing, are unlikely to seek support from any kind of professional unless.... they've got their back against the wall."
University of Canberra Sports psychologist Assistant Professor Richard Keegan told AAP that it was impossible to evaluate Kygrios' from watching him on television, but it's important to ask 'are you ok mate?" That theme was echoed by commentators who said all that Kyrgios needed was time and space to work out what he wants from the game.
After his loss, Kyrgios posted an apology of sorts on Twitter: "Not good enough today on many levels, I'm better than that. I can go on about excuses but there are none. Sorry #StillAWorkInProgress." He signed it off with emoticons of crying face and a disappointed face.
After the fine, he posted again, this time starting with emoticons of a thinking face and a face with tears of joy and added, "it never ends."
And later again, he retweeted a quote card from the Miami Open featuring comments from No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, made during a subsequent news conference in Shanghai.
"Not many great things are spoken about him lately," Djokovic said. "I'm sorry to hear that, because I share the opinion of many players and many people in the tennis world that he's one of the greatest talents the game has seen lately."
Last week, the ATP was promoting Kyrgios is its "mover of the week" after he moved up two places in the rankings to No. 12 by winning in Tokyo, his third title of the season. Former No. 1-ranked Lleyton Hewitt, Australia's Davis Cup captain, said Kyrgios was showing signs of maturity and could potentially reach the highest levels of the game.
The spotlight got too hot, it seems.
Veteran columnist Patrick Smith wrote in The Australian newspaper that Kyrgios should be banned for two reasons: "His welfare and the health of the game."
The performance and behavior in Shanghai brought tennis into disrepute, he said, "as much as it has continued the destruction of a gifted young man."
With the game under heavy scrutiny for corruption and spot fixing, "to see Kyrgios just pop the ball over the net with the power and technique of a child having his first lesson only underlines all these concerns."
Smith noted Kyrgios' earlier comments about his fatigue and boredom.
"He knows how to do only one thing and he has become a prisoner to his singular skill set," he wrote. "It might have earned him nearly $5 million in prizemoney but it has robbed him of his youth."