Phil Gifford: Rating the most and least watchable sport this week


Rating the most and least watchable events from the week of sport.

In first place: Nick Kyrgios.

Tennis has always leaned a bit to the vanilla. Whether it’s Roger Federer or Bjorn Borg, many of the stars are so clean cut you feel they wake up with their teeth cleaner than when they went to bed. The sport’s always needed some wilder cards or it’d have as many light moments as an Ingmar Bergman film festival.

So come on in Nick Kyrgios, who has presented for ages as a chrome plated tool. In 2019 he complained because the clean towels he was given were blue, not white. In 2015, (I am not making this up) he told his fans that smearing their faces with Vegemite would be the “most Australian thing” they could do to support him. He’s smashed racquets and chairs. And in 2015 he taunted an opponent, Stan Wawrinka, by claiming on court that Wawrinka’s friend Thanasis Kokkinakis had slept with Wawrinka’s girlfriend. Classy to a fault Kyrgios sneered, “He banged your girlfriend. Sorry to tell you that mate.”

Yet, how riveting was the five-set match he lost to Austrian Dominic Thiem at the Australian Open? Should I feel ashamed for yelling at the television set in support of the bad boy of the sport?

Thiem is from the Federer school of poker-faced efficiency. Nice but dull. Kyrgios gets so wound up he provides his own commentary. Thiem aces him. Kyrgios says, “Good serve.” Kyrgios misses an easy point, and hits his head with his racquet.

I was never that fond of John McEnroe as a tennis player, ever since a psychiatrist friend swore to me that he believed McEnroe had a psychopathic personality, which allowed him, purely as a tactic, to have an apparent meltdown while staying in icy control. McEnroe would finish screaming at an umpire with his pulse rate still normal, while across the net an opponent would be shaken by the outburst.

On the other hand, the huge, if guilty, pleasure of watching Kyrgios is that nothing seems planned. If anything is planned, it comes from a strange, strange place. He sometimes chucks in a between-the-legs trick shot for no other reason than he seems bored with a rally.

On the other hand, let’s hear it for the boy for the funniest ace ever seen on a tennis court, when, with Thiem standing so deep to return serve he almost needed a ticket for the front row of the stand, Kyrgios served a little underhand lollipop that dribbled over the net, too short for a scrambling Thiem to get to.

No question, watching Kyrgios was the highlight of the viewing week.

Second (in a photo-finish behind the Australian Open): The 25-24 win by Wales over Scotland in Edinburgh in the Six Nations rugby.

One of Elvis Presley’s Memphis Mafia sidekicks, Charlie Hodge, once said hearing his boss sing a rock and roll song during Elvis’ later maudlin years was “like finding a cheeseburger in a medicine chest.”

So it was with the one-point Welsh win at Murrayfield. Too often while watching Six Nations test matches the will to live is sucked away as massive, plodding forwards grind close enough to the line for Owen Farrell, or a Farrell clone, to kick a penalty or drop goal.

But in the Edinburgh test, not only did the lead yo-yo, but also, and more importantly, the quality of rugby was superb, even on a freezing day, with ankle-deep snow on the ground outside and the surface greasy.

Best of all, the intent of both teams was clearly to score tries. There were seven in the game and six of them were scorchers. Two of the exciting tries went to Scottish fullback Stuart Hogg, two to Welsh right wing Lewis Rees-Zammit, and one each to Scottish wing Darcy Graham and Welsh wing Liam Williams. Props are my favourite rugby people, but the only dud try was the 56th-minute crash, bash, mob-handed, lumber-over-the-line by Welsh prop Wyn Jones.

Scotland’s first-five, Finn Russell, is not exactly a late bloomer – having played six previous seasons for Scotland – but at 28 he’s finally in a Scotland side that gives him some good ball to work with; with a coach in Gregor Townsend who obviously wants him to constantly look to attack. How great it was to see him more often move the ball by hand, not kick it away.

Third: Daylight.

And then in fourth: The first four races in the Prada Cup.

Without real competition, even a sport that involves amazing machines that hit 80km/h on water without the aid of a motor is tedious. We’ve seen how exciting it can be on the Waitematā when the AC75s are neck and neck. But when the lead doesn’t change once from start to finish in four races in a row it’s not a contest, it’s an exhibition.

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