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Nick Kyrgios Goes Too Far with Remarks to Wawrinka

In sports, the concepts of heroes and villains are mostly innocuous because it is understood that any hostility, both within the game itself and how fans relate to it, ends when the contest is over. Whether it’s a strategically-placed elbow to the back, a blindside hit, or a check into the boards, such acts represent roughness while the clock is running but leave no animosity once it hits zero.

Obviously there’s the occasional athlete that blurs the lines between real and fictional villains, but hatred in sports is almost always reserved for noteworthy players with annoying tendencies (think LeBron James never eschewing a chance to play up a dramatic moment, or Peyton Manning embracing an “aw shucks” persona while being an under-the-radar stat hog who might not be the most enjoyable teammate).

That’s what made the arrival of Australian sensation Nick Kyrgios so important for the sport of tennis. There hadn’t been a relevant antagonist in the sport in some time, dating back at minimum to when Novak Djokovic was imitating the rituals of his peers and having his parents wear shirts with his face on them at a Grand Slam final (and yes, that is a thing that happened).

Whether you liked him or not, Kyrgios transcended the sport in a way that hadn’t been seen arguably since the wild child days of Andre Agassi. He was becoming a regular topic on water cooler-esque discussion shows like “Around the Horn” and “PTI” for both his athleticism and his childish antics.

During his match against Stan Wawrinka on Wednesday night in Montreal though, Kyrgios crossed the line from sports villain to actual villain:

For those uninformed on the gossipy parts of tennis, that’s Kyrgios saying that his countryman, Thanasi Kokkinakis, slept with Wawrinka’s girlfriend, who is rumored — and no more than that — to be WTA player Donna Vekic.

Wawrinka is no stranger to relationship drama spilling into his career, considering the Roland Garros website published an inappropriate article on the eve of the tournament that discussed the details of his recent divorce and rumored romance with Vekic (he would go on to win the French Open, the second Grand Slam of his career).

Other relevant details: Wawrinka is 30 years old, while Kokkinakis and Vekic are teenagers and Kyrgios turned 20 in April. Also, Kyrgios is referring to a prior relationship, not current infidelity.

Here was Kyrgios justifying his comments after the match, which ended with Wawrinka, unaware of the remarks, retiring in the third and final set due to a back injury:

It’s no wonder he feels justified in behaving like this, as his “he was getting a bit lippy with me” defense was endorsed by both his brother and mother, the latter of whom later deleted her Twitter account.

The thing with that — and he’s done this before in invoking Rafael Nadal’s famous habit of taking extensive time between points — is he’s bringing up the business of people not involved in the match at hand. If he has a problem with Wawrinka (a good bet since Kyrgios, despite admitting he didn’t want to be there, disliked Wawrinka questioning his excuse of illness after Wawrinka breezed past him at Queen’s Club), then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, except that he needs to actually direct his response to him.

According to ESPN’s Darren Cahill, a large figure within Australian tennis and something of a Kyrgios-defender, the two needed to be separated after the match once Wawrinka learned what was said, which was later confirmed by Arash Madani. Both have since taken to social media:

Though Kyrgios has been fined $10,000 by the ATP and may face more punishment, it feels like many are missing the point, especially since the ATP is trying to sweep it under the rug judging by the disappearance of the initial Vine. This isn’t about Kyrgios, Wawrinka or Kokkinakis. Even in today’s society, women still bear the brunt of judgment.

Otherwise why would Kyrgios say it? He’s friends with Kokkinakis, who had nothing to do with the match anyway. No, he’s insulting Wawrinka by attempting to devalue his (alleged) girlfriend, arguably reducing Vekic to something closer to property than a person.

An apology cannot undo this. Until now, the question was always “Is Nick Kyrgios good for tennis?” The key part there is “for tennis.” He is abusive to innocent people on court, but that’s in the workplace. Now he has affected someone’s life. The moral of the story is similar to that of the Gawker/Conde Nast scandal: It is not your right to share that information.

While some argue that this type of trash talk happens all the time in sports (which doesn’t make it any less unacceptable), this was picked up by a microphone and will follow Vekic far longer than anyone else, with the possible exception of Kyrgios, for whom it could eventually be reduced to nothing more than the nadir in his inevitable “maturing of a champion” storyline years from now.

On the other hand, that assumes this is as low as Kyrgios will go, which is no sure thing for an unabashedly brash player who could find himself seen as a villain outside the painted lines as a result of sharing something that had no business being brought within them in the first place.

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