Nick Kyrgios celebrates match point against Pierre-Hugues Herbert in a second-round U.S. Open match on Aug. 30, 2018, at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.


Liguori: Time For Kyrgios To Grow Up

Aussie Bad Boy Act Is Getting Old

Ann Liguori
August 31, 2018 - 9:57 am

Guess every sport needs a bad boy. Someone who loves to get attention just for the heck of it. Someone who seems to thrive on acting out and behaving badly.

In tennis, it’s Nick Kyrgios, the talented 23-year-old from Australia. He has the reputation of being a bad boy, a mental case, oftentimes looking like he’s tanking matches, not caring.

On Thursday, in his second round match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France on Court 17 at the U.S. Open, Kyrgios dropped the first set and was down 3-0 in the second, looking like he wasn’t trying. He wasn’t running for shots. It looked like he was double-faulting and hitting shots into the net intentionally.

The chair umpire, Mohamed Lahyani, got out of his chair to talk with Kyrgios. That in itself is bizarre behavior, for a chair umpire to leave his seat to talk to a player, overstepping his role as an umpire. It looked like he was giving Kyrgios a pep talk, encouraging him to get out there and play his best. From that point, Kyrgios rallied back to win the third set in a tie-breaker and then won the third and fourth sets to move on. But the unique occurrence had many people questioning what was going on, wondering what the heck the chair umpire had said to the Aussie and why the umpire looked like perhaps he turned into an on-court shrink for the oft-troubled player. 

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Herbert was asked about it afterward.

“Actually, the umpire doesn't have to talk to him at all,” Herbert said. “The only thing he can tell him is, ‘Yeah, pay attention because if you continue like this, I'm going to give you a warning’ — something like this. They can tell him from the chair. He doesn't need to go down. He doesn't need to say the words he said on the video. I think this was not his job. I don't think he's a coach — he's an umpire, and he should stay on his chair for that.”

Herbert continued: “Because I think Mohamed, he's actually a really good umpire. I think he knows everybody. I think he cares for Nick. He cares for the show also because people were going after the first set. Everybody was there for the start. When they saw Nick in a bad mood, I would say, for the first two sets, they started going away. … I think like everybody, I think Nick today could be an amazing player. Just sometimes he's mentally, yeah, not here. I don't know where he was for the first two sets. I know he was on court after when he started playing, when he kicked my ass and was much better than me.”

Afterward, Kyrgios was asked if the chair umpire was giving him words of encouragement.

“I'm not sure it was encouragement,” Kyrgios said. ”He said he liked me. I'm not sure if that was encouragement. He just said that it's not a good look.
“Look. I wasn't feeling good. I know what I was doing out there wasn't good. I wasn't really listening to him, but I knew it wasn't a good look. It didn't help me at all. Like, I was down 5-2. If it was 3-0, and maybe if I would have come back and won six games in a row, fair enough. Didn't help me at all.”

Kyrgios was asked if he’d be upset if the umpire would be sanctioned for talking to him.

“For sure,” he said. “I don't believe that he deserves it. I mean, the umpire in Shanghai didn't cop any backlash. It happened to me in Cincinnati two weeks ago against (Juan Martin) del Potro. The exact same thing happened. I wasn't putting forth my best performance.

“I did the same today. The umpire was like, ‘Nick, you can't be doing this. It's a bad look.’ Same thing happened there.”

After the match, the USTA put out the following statement:

“After the third game of the second set in the Kyrgios-Herbert match on Court 17, with Kyrgios down 0-3, Chair Umpire Mohamed Lahyani left his chair to check on the condition of Nick Kyrgios. He came out of the chair because of the noise level in the Stadium during the changeover to make sure he could communicate effectively with Kyrgios.

"Lahyani was concerned that Kyrgios might need medical attention. Lahyani told Kyrgios that if he was feeling ill, that the tournament could provide medical help. He also informed Kyrgios that if his seeming lack of interest in the match continued, that as the chair umpire, he would need to take action. He again suggested to Kyrgios that he could receive medical attention.

At the next changeover, Kyrgios down 1-4, received treatment from the physiologist.

On Friday morning, a USTA spokesman told The Associated Press that a "comprehensive review" determined Lahyani's chat with Kyrgios went "beyond our protocol," but he would not be sanctioned because of his "exemplary track record."


Roger Federer, who advanced to his 18th straight third round at the U.S. Open with a straight-set win over Benoit Paire, will face Kyrgios on Saturday. Kyrgios idolized Federer growing up so it will be interesting to see how he behaves while playing his hero.

Federer was asked what he thought of the umpire’s decision to get out of his chair to talk with Kyrgios.

“You as an umpire take a decision on the chair, do you like it or don't you like it?” he said. “But you don't go and speak like that, in my opinion.

“I don't know what he said. I don't care what he said. It was not just about, ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘Oh, I'm not feeling so well.’ Go back up to the chair. He was there for too long. It's a conversation. Conversations can change your mindset. It can be a physio or a doctor, an umpire for that matter.

“That's why it won't happen again. I think everybody knows that.”

Obviously, the chair umpire showed he is a nice guy by making the special effort to talk some sense into Kyrgios. But it can be perceived as favoritism, and umpires need to give off the perception that they are impartial.

And beyond the umpire’s move, is the bad behavior of Kyrgios -- that he tanks, gives up, loses focus, interest and stops trying.

He needs to grow up and get attention for winning, not grand-standing. 
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori.