Whether you love him or hate him, there’s no Australian Open like a Nick Kyrgios Australian Open. His absence has made that clear this week.
Last year, the controversial tennis star entertained fans for the full two week tournament as he made it all the way to the men’s doubles final and won, alongside fellow Aussie and mate Thanasi Kokkinakis.
From stirring up rowdy crowds to tweeners, dancing between serves and smashed racquets, his behaviour saw people who had no interest in tennis tuning in.
For two weeks, he was the talk of the town with both strong criticism and high praise.
Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka said at the time: “I’m honestly feeling like now it’s not Australian Open if you don’t watch a night match of Kyrgios on John Cain (Arena).”
The first round match was only 50 per cent capacity due to Covid but the crowd was so wild Kyrgios called it a zoo and his opponent Liam Broady described the experience as “absolutely awful”.
It turned out, that was just the start.
The rowdy crowds continued to follow Kyrgios in stadiums around Melbourne Park for two weeks. Many said they had never seen anything like it at a tennis match.
Kyrgios was succeeding in his mission to “give the people of Australia and the Australian Open a show”, “grow the sport of tennis” and psych out his opponents at the same time.
However, this year, the 27-year-old pulled out of the home tournament last minute with a knee injury.
Losing him was thought to be such a blow for the tournament, Channel 9 reportedly offered him a commentating gig to still have him involved, which he knocked back.
Kyrgios’ absence is obvious at Melbourne Park.
There is still great tennis being played by incredible athletes but there is certainly less of a “show”.
This year, the closest the Australian Open got to a Kyrgios crowd was at Kokkinakis’ two singles matches.
But both times, incredible circumstances saw crowd numbers dwindle.
The 26-year-old’s first round match was spread over 24 hours due to heat and rain delays, and then he was knocked out in the second round by Andy Murray in a 5 hour and 45 minute match that finished just after 4am Friday.
Last year, many players and tennis purists slammed Kyrgios and his raucous fans.
New Zealand doubles player Michael Venus called Kyrgios “an absolute knob” after losing to him and Kokkinakis in the quarterfinals, and before that Kyrgios revealed previous opponent Mate Pavic’s coach and trainer threatened to fight him after their match.
In interviews, other players bluntly stated the crowds needed to show more respect.
But that dialogue is almost entirely absent at this year’s Australian Open.
In fact, World No. 7 Daniil Medvedev, who last year said playing in Australia had crushed his spirit and would change the way he looked at tennis, said on Wednesday: “I’m enjoying the crowd. I’m enjoying being here, playing here.”
Players’ behaviour on court and spectators’ behaviour in the stands is certainly more tame – a disappointment for those looking forward to the Kyrgios show and relief for his critics.
In addition to Kyrgios, a growing list of other big names and fan favourites are already out of the competition only five days in, including Rafael Nadal, Taylor Fritz, Emma Raducanu and Medvedev.
Osaka is not playing as she is pregnant, and Venus Williams and Australia’s top-ranked female player Ajla Tomljanovic both pulled out due to an injury.
This year’s tournament is also missing Ash Barty, who won the women’s singles title and retired a short time later.
It’s just not the same.