Tennis: Nick Kyrgios assault charge dismissed after guilty plea, future unclear

Nick Kyrgios’ guilty plea for assault in Canberra has added fuel to a “growing crisis” in men’s tennis around domestic violence, with his future currently up in the air as he waits on Tennis Australia and the professional tour to respond.

With Kyrgios already one of the most controversial figures on tour and the most fined player in the history of the sport, it remains to be seen whether there is any impact at all on his professional career.

Arriving at court on crutches on Friday, Kyrgios faced one charge relating to an incident with former partner Chiara Passari in 2021, but had charges dismissed by Magistrate Beth Campbell.

Ms Campbell cited the significant publicity surrounding the trial in part of her reasoning for the case not warranting a conviction.

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A recorded conviction could keep him from entering the United States, which would leave him unable to compete in a host of key ATP tennis events, including the US Open.

The ATP currently lacks a domestic violence policy and has not banned players for non-doping or corruption violations in recent years, but any suspension would likely see Kyrgios miss the upcoming French Open at Roland-Garros.

Male professional athletes often escape scrutiny for their behaviour in domestic relationships, and tennis itself is grappling with its place in an ongoing worldwide reckoning on patriarchal violence.

The Association of Tennis Professionals, who are responsible for the men’s tour, do not have a domestic violence policy in place, and Kyrgios’ court outcome comes just days after the ATP announced there would not be any disciplinary action pursued against German world No. 14 Alexander Zverev, the domestic violence allegations against whom have been reported in harrowing detail by journalist Ben Rothenberg in Slate and Racquet Magazine.

Zverev’s ex-girlfriend, Olga Sharypova, claimed Zverev covered her face with a pillow until she could no longer breathe in New York during the 2019 US Open.

She also recounted that Zverev would later punch her in the face for the first time in Geneva, where she had accompanied him to the Laver Cup.

After over a year, earlier this week the ATP announced Zverev would not face any action from the Association owing to insufficient evidence.

Zverev is not alone on the men’s tour in facing allegations involving their behaviour in relationships, with Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili facing court last year on domestic violence charges in a case involving his former wife, and Brazil’s Thiago Seyboth Wild being investigated over allegations of both physical and mental abuse against his former partner.

Basilashvili was acquitted in October last year.

When the Seyboth Wild news broke in September, Rothenberg said on Twitter that the three cases shared being “part of a growing crisis for men’s tennis that will require a significant response to repair the damage.”

Freelance journalist Ashish Malhotra, in an opinion piece for the Washington Post, said “tennis could and should do much more to show it isn’t complicit.

“Broadcasters could ditch the lighthearted interviews with players accused of domestic violence.

“Tiptoeing sends an ugly message about the priorities of the people atop men’s tennis, who come off as more concerned about the sport’s image than about the responsibility to quickly respond to worrying claims.”

Malhotra suggests these incidents present an opportunity for the ATP to “send a strong message” about its values by creating a proper code of conduct and establishing a process for offenders on tour.

He notes that the MLB suspended Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer in 2021 for 324 games because of sexual assault allegations, even though the Los Angeles County District did not pursue charges – the bar need not necessarily be that of criminal guilt in order to maintain a policy that honours and stands in solidarity with alleged victims of abuse.

These criticisms of glossing over serious allegations have also been levelled at Nick Kyrgios’ appearance in the new Netflix tennis documentary series Break Point, which had a strong focus on his loving relationship with current partner Costeen Hatzi.

Writer Catherine Thornhill said on Twitter it was a “grim PR exercise to rehabilitate Kyrgios’ reputation while he faces charges for assaulting his ex-girlfriend.”

An ACT court heard Kyrgios shoved Ms Passari to the ground during an argument in the Canberra suburb of Kingston on January 10, 2021.

Kyrgios told Ms Passari to “leave me the f**k alone” before pushing her with “significant force”.

“Just f***king piss off,” he said.

Ms Passari was seen by residents of a nearby unit complex lying on the ground crying.

The court heard Kyrgios stood over her and remarked “seriously” as she lay on the ground.

She told the court she had been severely traumatised by the incident, experiencing severe weight loss, staying in bed day and night, and unable to sleep or form new romantic relationships.

Ms Passari said she felt “scared to be alone” after the assault, and that the “trust and safety I felt with Nick no longer existed.”

Various figures in Australian media have called the NRL’s no-fault stand down policy for players accused of serious charges, which bans them from playing as long as legal proceedings are ongoing, an example for how other sports should deal with serious offending.

Gerard Whateley and Mark Robinson suggested on AFL 360 in 2021 after ex-Swan Elijah Taylor was charged with aggravated assault that the AFL would be “well served” by a similar policy to the NRL.

Taylor was sacked by the Swans in November 2020 over the charges, which would later see him receive a spent conviction and a $5000 fine after he admitted to striking his ex-girlfriend with a belt and punching her in the back of the head at a Perth hotel in September 2020.

The Association of Tennis Professionals and Tennis Australia have been contacted for comment.

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