I’ve been sitting on the sidelines for too long. As we reach the third round of the Australian Open, it’s time to take me off the couch and put me into the change-rooms. Tuesday night’s spectacular spray by tennis’s bad boy, Bernard Tomic, against former World no 1 Lleyton Hewitt – involving accusations of Davis Cup favouritism, talk of boycotts, and demands for Hewitt’s replacement – has sunk Tennis Australia into an embarrassing hole. The follow-up tweets and Insta attacks by the talented but difficult Nick Kyrgios have added fuel to flames.
With all this unsportsmanlike play going on in press conferences and other public arenas, there’s only one thing for it. Bring me in as coach. I’ve got just what they need.
1. I’m not a coach
Well, this is awkward. Seems I forgot to mention I’ve only played one season of tennis – when I was eight. I got a trophy and everything. But my greatness on the court was mediocre at best so I hung up my racquet. I bring it out every year, though, when I need to swat flies and mosquitoes as I watch the Australian Open on TV.
2. What happens off court …
Also, I’m not a sports psychologist. But I am a lounge-room spectator and that totally qualifies me to assess that what’s going on with our sporting icons Tomic, Hewitt and their Aussie male peers. Because what I’ve observed about them this week seems obvious. All this arguing and vicious attacking off the court can’t be good for what they’re meant to be doing on the court.
One reason I know this is Tomic himself said so during THAT press conference.
I know professional sports people are meant to remain in the zone and be conditioned to block out stress and opposition. But, come on. Professional sports people are still people. And people get angry, sad, mad and all sorts of other negative emotions when they’re fighting to excel. So the longer Tomic, Hewitt and Co spend devoting themselves to hitting out against each other, expect their match play also to suffer. This is what Tomic claims is already hitting Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis.
3. Be honest but …
I don’t really know what’s happened between coach Hewitt and player Tomic in their Davis Cup contests. Or Hewitt and Kyrgios, for that matter. I suppose the way Tomic and Kyrgios have dealt with it this week could be viewed as them telling it like it is. Or how they see that it is. They’re just being honest, you know? Getting the truth out there, even if it hurts. But whether you are a top tennis player or someone on the couch who stopped playing when they were eight, speaking the truth is not normally constructive when it’s done to destroy.
4. Public enemies
Hey, Australian men’s top tennis players! Is going at each other in public really the best way to handle your differences? Is deliberately mouthing off in a press conference going to help? Can Twitter or Insta be the channels for reconciliation?
“Have fun with that guys,” was Tomic’s parting shot as he left the Tuesday press conference, having vented his frustrations about Hewitt before a packed media throng. Hardly an invitation to rebuild relations with someone he described only three years ago as “a true mentor, not just to me, but to a lot of people around the world. He’s changed me.”)
Perhaps having a private word with each other might have been a kinder starting point – even with all the bad blood that has boiled up beforehand.
5. Get a life coach
Surprise! I’m not a life coach. But I’ve got one and he’s great. Bernie and Nick and Lleyton, I don’t know if you have a life coach, but I can definitely recommend mine. I’m not sure about his serving action or if he can volley like the incomparable Roger Federer. What I do know is he’s great at knowing how to handle disputes. One thing he strongly urges is to love your enemies. Yeah, our enemies. It can be hard enough to love our friends and family – or tennis peers – but he goes to the next level. And his example modelled such extreme yet restoring actions as speaking the truth IN LOVE (Ephesians 4:15), and not to be proud but strive to live in harmony with one another (Romans 13:16).
Oh, sorry. The coach’s name is Jesus. And there’s at least one former tennis great in Melbourne this week who takes his lead from him – Michael Chang.
Chang, the former American Grand Slammer turned coach of eighth-seed Kei Nishikori, told Eternity at the Australian Open last year that the best instruction he can give comes from the one God sent to coach us all.