Is tennis becoming uncivil?

One of the goals of the new head of the U.S.T.A. is a renewed emphasis on sportsmanship.

Nick Kyrgios in action at Wimbledon last year. 

Nick Kyrgios in action at Wimbledon last year. 

“I think the game has gotten away from its moral aspect,” says Katrina Adams, the first former player and African-American to serve as president, CEO and chairman of the United States Tennis Association.

She has a point: Christopher Clarey’s column in the July 1 edition of The New York Times suggests that there may be a changing of the guard in men’s tennis with Australia’s Nick Kyrgios and America’s Jack Sock offering viewers edgier competition – and a vocabulary to match. The new bad boys of tennis – in stark contrast to the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic “trivalry” that has fallen all over itself to appear gentlemanly, regardless of personal feelings – are a throwback to a golden era in the 1970s when cursing, screaming and racket abuse went hand-in-hand with memorable play. (Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, anyone? Everyone?)  Bjorn Borg was the exception – and even he started out as a tantrum-throwing teen. (For that matter, so did Fed.)

Djokovic’s coach, Boris Becker, who could get as hot as his strawberry blond hair on the court, has lamented what he sees as gentlemanliness at the expense of competitive fire. Adams disagrees and so do I, even though I possess what I would call an Achillean temper. But as you get older, you begin to understand that you can be passionate without being angry.

Katrina Adams, U.S.T.A. head.

Katrina Adams, U.S.T.A. head.

Still, you sympathize with those struggling to control their emotions in the heat of a match.

“I was just so angry with myself,” Serena Williams said of the F-bombs she unloaded in her three-set French Open final victory over Lucie Savarova.

Andy Murray’s foul-mouthed soliloquys, too, seem to be directed more at himself than anything or anyone else – which is the way McEnroe used to be (and probably still is).

Tennis – a game in which you can win a set 6-0 – seems to attract many quick-tempered perfectionists. No one can stay mad at himself forever, though, because a divided self cannot function. So where does the anger go? It has to explode to keep its possessor from imploding.

As always, your greatest opponent is yourself.

For more on Katrina Adams, look for my colleague Colleen Wilson’s profile of her in the August issue of WAG magazine, “Passion Plays.”