“Little Aussie Tennis Team?”

BY BEN

This is the best short film I’ve ever seen about sport. Do yourself a favour. Find 8 spare minutes and watch it.

For me this film does a great job of capturing something that always inspires me in sport: character. The movie looks at a young soccer team struggling to score a goal and losing all of their games. But despite this you see a group of kids that love the game, care about the team and are trying their best to turn their fortunes around.

Parent: “They don’t lack spirit and they must not lack spirit.

Even though they lose by many goals against,

They never get mad or angry or anything else.”

One of the most wonderful moments is the joy of Haritz and Pol as they talk about what scoring a goal would mean to them and the team.

While these young sportspeople inspired me, this movie made me reflect on how disengaged I felt with the Australian Open this year and three other young Australian athletes that can make me cringe when they play.

Being a proud fellow Canberran I was excited about Nick Kyrigios prior to the Australian Open. But this excitement was very short lived. The smashing of racquets, the carrying on and the constant temper tantrums just made me tune out and even feel a bit embarrassed for him. The outbursts in his 4th round match up against Andreas Seppi were especially unbelievable. Kyrigios yelling “Get off the fucking phone!” to someone in the crowd was widely reported on. But there was also an extremely aggressive tirade directed at someone who did the wrong thing and noisily interrupted Kyrigios’s serve. There was also as an awkward conversation with a couple who were slow to leave their seats at a change of ends.

Kyrgios as a youngin
Kyrgios has proven as combustible as the Wu-Tang Clan

Even if I step down off my moral high horse for a second and just talk about how he played tennis, these outbursts aligned with poor focus, movement, shot selection and general play.

In many ways tennis has always been a very different beast to other Australian team sports. With Michael Clarke or Cameron Smith or Luke Hodge they’re ambassadors for their team and all their supporters and are trained on how they are expected to behave and react to all the tough situations that come with their position.

Young stars in tennis are fighting to earn a spot on the brutally competitive tour where everything is placed on their shoulders as an individual at once. Lleyton Hewitt’s constant outbursts and struggles with accepting defeat graciously polarizes Australian supporters to this day. We can all remember a 17 year old Tomic coming to terms with the physical demands of the tough men’s circuit by complaining at the Australian Open about how his 5 set loss to Marin Cilic happened as a result of the late starting time of his game. 2 years later Tomic again demonstrated a lack of character as he lost a controversial match to Andy Rodick at the US open in which he seemingly gave up in the last set.

Tomic has not displayed mental fortitude on a consistent basis
Tomic has not displayed mental fortitude on a consistent basis

As McEnroe (another player who’s character was often questioned) observed at the time:

“Tomic is teeing it up. It looks like a tank job. This is a shame. You don’t like to see this. I like to see Andy win but, other than that, it’s poor.”

This post isn’t trying to say players should be perfect. Far from it. We all snap and have our breaking points. And while we can all relate to that I think we expect to see athlete’s make amends and bounce back, just as we would expect that of ourselves. I expect Tomic to pull himself together in that final set against Andy Roddick and compete until the end. I expect Kyrigios to apologise after his outbursts and deal with his emotions better. And I expect Hewitt to not accuse line judges of conspiring with opposition players based on the colour of their skin*.

Hewitt probably shouldn't be racist.
Hewitt probably shouldn’t be racist.

When you think about it, the idea of a short film on the “little aussie tennis team” is pretty horrifying. While we don’t personally know Kyrigios, the idea of a 7 year old tennis player stopping in the middle of his game and yelling at a stranger to “Get off his fucking phone” isn’t something many parents or coaches would tolerate. Until our Aussie tennis players get their shit together I might have to just keep settling on watching this great short film a few more times.

*In 2001 at the US Open playing against James Blake Hewitt was accused of racism. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/in_depth/2001/us_open_tennis/1520183.stm

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