MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The ATP has rarely garnered praise for its handling of misconduct but former doubles great and Tennis Australia (TA) official Todd Woodbridge believes the players’ association hit the mark with the suspension of wayward talent Nick Kyrgios.
The 21-year-old was fined $25,000 and suspended for eight weeks on Monday after his latest on-court meltdown at the Shanghai Masters, where he clashed with fans, the chair umpire and walked off court in the middle of a point.
Kyrgios can be back playing in three weeks if he commits to a course of counseling with a sports psychologist, which TA says he has already committed to.
Woodbridge, former head of player development at TA, has been a staunch defender of compatriot Kyrgios in the past but felt the ATP’s rare suspension was due.
“I think with all of the things that have occurred, it was pretty important,” Woodbridge, who won 22 grand slam doubles titles, told Reuters on Tuesday.
”There needed to be a suspension or a ban given what he did.
“Also the tour have handed him the right dose of it to help him become accountable and give him a chance to work on it.”
In dealing with the prodigiously gifted hothead, who many tout as a future grand slam champion, TA has been caught between a rock and a hard place.
The proud tennis nation has not had a men’s grand slam winner since Lleyton Hewitt’s Wimbledon triumph in 2002 and fans clamor for Kyrgios to quell his demons and realize his enormous potential.
TA have worn a lot of flak from pundits and local media for not being tougher on the players through his myriad controversies, but are mindful that the hard line has failed in the past.
The Australian Olympic Committee, represented by team chef de mission Kitty Chiller, slammed Kyrgios for his public demeanor earlier in the year and warned him to smarten up or miss out on the Rio Games.
Kyrgios promptly withdrew himself from consideration for Rio, leaving Australia without their top medal hope in the tournament.
Many players, including Andre Agassi and the great Roger Federer, were criticized for brattish episodes early in their careers before settling down on the way to huge success, and Woodbridge felt Kyrgios could yet follow their lead.
“It couldn’t be further from the truth that Kyrgios is the only guy out there who struggles with (pressure),” he said.
”I think many athletes would look at some of the stuff that he’s been dealing with and would know about it. Have they acted out as much as Nick has? No. But it’s also about maturity.
“In essence, he’s been really good,” added Woodbridge of Kyrgios, who won the Japan Open, his third and best title of his career, days before his Shanghai explosion.
“Ideally, he would have had the next week off (after Japan), but by virtue of what the tour is, it’s a compulsory thing ... That’s where he hasn’t yet got accustomed.”
Much has been made of Kyrgios’s lack of a coach and whether he needs one in his corner to help soak up the pressure and provide a reassuring voice at tournaments.
After a highly-criticised exit from Wimbledon this year, Kyrgios said he liked the freedom of flying solo, and, in any case, his patchy work ethic would not appeal to coaches.
Woodbridge said he felt it was up to the player to decide.
”He will hire a coach when he is ready, I think it’s an important part of developing and moving on.
”There’s no point having one if you don’t want one ... Andy Murray had a similar period in his career where he went without.
“He’s since moved through a sequence of coaches.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty