MELBOURNE, Australia — Shooter McGavin has never liked Happy Gilmore.
“He’s a disgrace to the game,” he once claimed. ‘The man is destroying golf. Kick him off the tour.’
Gilmore, the flamboyant, failed hockey player turned unorthodox golf professional, a fictional character beautifully portrayed by Adam Sandler in the 1996 film, was a polarizing figure to say the least. Gilmore could entertain crowds like no other, doing things with a golf club that others wouldn’t dare dream of, but his aggressiveness and short fuse often got him into hot water.
The similarities between Gilmore and Australian tennis bad boy Nick Kyrgios have always been apparent. There’s the trademark that no one else would dare to try; for Gilmore it was the flying start, a thumping drive off the tee, while for Kyrgios it’s his daring and often humiliating forearm serve.
There is the intense rivalry with the best player in the sport. Like Gilmore and McGavin, Kyrgios and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic have often criticized each other’s behavior, clashing at various stages over the years. Last year, Kyrgios labeled the 20-time Slam champion a “tool” and “a very strange cat,” to which Djokovic replied, “I don’t have much respect for him.”
Gilmore and Kyrgios even share the same blasé attitude towards their respective sports. The 26-year-old from Canberra has referred to tennis as a “part-time job” on numerous occasions and has a much greater interest in other sports, especially basketball. Gilmore once claimed “golf requires crazy pants and a fat a–” and reluctantly began playing as a way to make a quick buck and save his grandmother’s house.
The parallels between the two sporting icons have become even more blatant in the first week of the 2022 Australian Open.
Kyrgios only lasted two rounds and seven sets in singles, but he managed to cause as much commotion in the past week as any other tennis player in the world not named Djokovic. And like McGavin with Gilmore, many of Kyrgios’ rivals have criticized him and the behavior of the crowds he attracts.
“It’s the first time I’ve walked out on a tennis court and been booed,” said Kyrgios’ first-round opponent Liam Broady after he dropped out of the tournament on Day 2. he plays better for it. It’s all very rare in tennis.”
Seconds after knocking out Broady at the John Cain Arena, Kyrgios poured himself over a fan’s pint of beer. And yes, Gilmore achieved that feat no more than 26 years ago.
Two days later, after winning one of the points of the tournament against the world No. 2 and Australian Open favorite Daniil Medvedev, Kyrgios circled the rim of the Rod Laver Arena to hype the crowd. It was a scene eerily reminiscent of Gilmore parading the green with a golf club between his legs.
“Nick, well, he’s a great entertainer,” Medvedev said after their match against Eurosport. “But at breaking point [and] second served people are cheering like you’ve already made a double mistake. That’s just disappointing. Those who do it probably have low IQs.”
It really doesn’t matter which court Kyrgios plays on, you’re almost guaranteed a rowdy crowd that will claim his showmanship and create their own shenanigans in the stands. Already this week we witnessed shoeys, Mexican waves and the ever-lingering Cristiano Ronaldo “Siuuu!” to sing. It’s all eerily reminiscent of Gilmore’s raucous, beer-scouring fans advising McGavin to “go back to your shanties.”
One of the film’s most memorable scenes is when Gilmore and game show host Bob Barker throw punches at a charity golf tournament. According to Kyrgios, something similar almost happened after he and doubles partner Thanasi Kokkinakis defeated the top-ranked pair in the world, Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic.
“I informed you that after yesterday’s doubles chop party, my opponent’s coach and trainer threatened to fight in the player’s gym,” Kyrgios tweeted. “Tennis is a soft, soft sport.”
There has always been a lot of fear surrounding Kyrgios, not only from his opponents, but also from tennis fans and the media. But this is nothing new and as long as he stays in the sport, his unique tennis style will not change.
As fictional tour boss Doug Thompson McGavin reminded Gilmore, “He hasn’t broken a single rule. The ratings have gone up and we’re attracting new and youthful sponsors. There’s nothing I can do.”
So it is with Kyrgios. How many tennis players move the needle, as it were, can be counted on one hand. With the likes of Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal all firmly in the twilight of their illustrious careers, the sport is desperate for another draw. Kyrgios could just be it.
According to Media Week, the highest-rated non-news program in Australia this week was Kyrgios’ second-round match against Medvedev on Thursday night. World No. 1 and fellow countryman Ash Barty haven’t been close in any of her matches so far; neither has the best local guy Alex de Minaur. Even his doubles matches have more fans than the fourth round singles action that takes place less than 100 yards away. Kyrgios knows it too.
“I saw TV ratings go up 45%, mate. Let’s get this straight,” Kyrgios joked after he and Kokkinakis won their third round doubles match. “We need this for the sport.”
Like Gilmore in Dennis Dugan’s cult film, Kyrgios isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and probably never will be. But he is an entertainer. A showman, first and foremost, who has the skill to compete with the world’s best players on the biggest stages.
“Tennis has done a really bad job of accepting personalities,” he said. “They’ve really only brought three players on the market in the last ten years, and now they’ve caught up. But people are doing it differently, and I think tennis should embrace that more. Look at the match between me and Medvedev — you couldn’t have two more opposing personalities against each other, and it was fun. Tennis just has to push that a lot, or it’s in trouble.”