In the wee small hours, long after those most likely to have their tennis-loving senses offended had finished their Bovril and shortbreads and turned in, Nick Kyrgios again produced the kind of performance that inspires open-mouthed awe from some, undisguised disdain from many others and gives TV programmers grey hairs.
Kyrgios didn’t beat Rafael Nadal. Not this time. Nor did he always behave in a manner that some Australians profess to expect from their tennis players (unless they’re winning).
No doubt the headlines will focus on the code of conduct warning that followed Kyrgios’s overzealous protests about Nadal’s slow play or the cheeky underhand serve that is now a regular part of the Kyrgios armour and yet, well, just not the done thing.
There will also be some earnest tsk tsking because Kyrgios was seen enjoying himself at a pub in the Wimbledon village on the evening before his match, not home crocheting a rug or, even less likely, resting for his game against the most physically robust player in the game’s history.
Yet any reviews should also note Kyrgios played an almost equal part in the most compelling match at this Wimbledon so far, his 6-3 3-6 7-6 (5) 7-6 (3) defeat absorbing the crowd both because and despite of how the Australian played, and also Nadal’s understandably intense desire to beat him.
It was, in short, the kind of match that makes Kyrgios in equal parts captivating, infuriating and extremely difficult to bump from the screen.
Meanwhile, after the rather tedious “debate” about Seven’s Wimbledon programming, there was only one person to blame for Ashleigh Barty’s fleeting prime-time appearance in the second round — Barty.
Against Alison Van Uytvanck, every Aussie’s newly adopted daughter played with the kind of presence and composure you might expect from, well, the top seed in the 55 minutes it took to destroy her mostly overwhelmed opponent.
Despite a few late signs of life from the Belgian, the only way the match was likely to go into a second hour was if Bernard Tomic had chained himself to the net post and demanded Van Uytvanck also be fined her entire week’s prize money because his abject performance had lasted three minutes longer.
So Barty moves on and, with Kyrgios gone, there is no more danger of the kind of scheduling clash that caused consternation among those who tuned in to the first round believing they would to see the newly crowned women’s world number one player, not the game’s number one sideshow.
Such disappointment was understandable given Barty has been heavily promoted in the days before her first match as Wimbledon top seed, creating the reasonable expectation the besotted public would actually get to see her play.
Yet the presumption Barty was snubbed due to her gender, based on the “they wouldn’t have done the same thing to a man” theory, was understandable but not necessarily sustainable.
I’m figuring that had Lleyton Hewitt in his brat-ish early years started a highly entertaining and potentially controversial match against a fellow Australian two hours before world number one Pat Rafter paddled away in a straightforward first-rounder, Seven would have stayed with Hewitt until the bitter end.
Personally? As part of the privileged 25 per cent of Australians with both free-to-air and cable TV who could choose between Kyrgios and Barty, I watched the Kyrgios match because of its drama and despite Barty’s undisputed worthiness.
To me the argument about Seven’s choice was not exclusively (if at all) about Barty’s gender, but about whether we in the media are correct in assuming our own news values predicated around drama and controversy are in line with the tastes of the public, or whether we are blithely imposing them on viewers/ readers.
In this case, did viewers demand the Kyrgios freak show that would doubtless be the subject of inflated headlines and water cooler conversations the next morning or would they have preferred Barty’s rightly celebrated play in a match made relatively mundane by her sheer ability?
I mean, at what other grand slam would the most recent grand slam champion, world number one and top seed be sent to the third tier venue to play while local women were given preferential treatment?
(A clue: It’s played in Melbourne, the players spend a lot of time patting marsupials before the tournament and then world number one and recently crowned US Open champion Naomi Osaka played on the equivalent of court two this year.)
Of course, the person least outraged by Barty’s treatment was Barty. She was too firmly focussed on her sole objective — getting the next ball into play — to worry about such relative trivialities as early-round TV coverage and court allocation which is partly why she has been so warmly embraced.
No doubt Barty was just happy to get off whichever court she was given quickly and perhaps even take a peek at the Kyrgios-Nadal match herself, knowing — as those who know grand slam tennis do — the first week is for the surprise packets and the showstoppers and the champions get plenty of air time when it really matters.