Makin’ Bacon: TANKING or TARGETING?

tanking

So I see many in the tennis community have added their “about damn time” and “good job ATP” onto today’s Nick Kyrgios suspension news. For anyone whose smart phone might have incurred a porn virus or has gone over its alloted data, allow The Pig to revisit that quickly. At last week’s Shanghai Rolex Masters event, Kyrgios gave not one f*ck about playing his match against qualifier Mischa Zverev in the second round. This is also commonly referred to in the sport as “tanking” or basically losing on purpose.

The Aussie looked disinterested and genuinely displayed a lack of effort in the 6-3, 6-1 loss. Kyrgios bickered with the chair umpire (nothing new in tennis) and a fan who lamented Kyrgios’ lack of effort in front of fans who had paid to be entertained. In total, Kyrgios was fined $16,500 for his actions during the match itself and then received another $25,000 fine from the ATP today for “conduct contrary to the integrity of the game.”

The icing on top of the cake delivered with that fine was an eight week suspension levied on the 14th ranked player on the ATP World Tour. Kyrgios can reduce that suspension by seeing a tour-approved sports psychologist. Kyrgios released a statement after the punishment was doled out, saying …

“The season has been a long one as I battled several injuries and other challenges towards the end of the summer. The Asian circuit was particularly tough after the long week and win in Tokyo and with the travel throughout the continent, my body finally just gave out in Shanghai both physically and mentally. This is no excuse, and I know very well that I need to apologize to the fans – in Shanghai and in other parts of the world – as well as the tournament organizers in Shanghai who do an amazing job.”

So now we’re all on the same page. Kyrgios’ comments today reflect what many tennis professionals go through at various times during the season. Heavy travel and back-to-back tournaments often put fatigue on even the best of the best. That leaves players both physically and mentally drained. Tour veterans have learned either to withdraw from a tournament with an “injury” or go out and produce a lackluster effort for an eerly exit. The 21-year-old Kyrgios has not yet perfected this art.

Yes my piglets, there is an art to tanking. No one in their right mind should pretend that this does not exist, just as we do not pretend that match fixing doesn’t exist just because some players have been banned from the sport for doing so. There are no statistics to back it up, but I’d venture to say if you comb over a week of ATP action in any given month, you’ll see some questionable efforts. Players like Bernard Tomic, Fabio Fognini, Benoit Paire and Gael Monfils have all seen accusations levied against them at times for allegedly tanking games and/or sets. Some of those accusations look spot on. See Benoit Paire in this match.

No fine levied against Paire in that one for an incident which looks just as egregious as Kyrgios’ antics in Shanghai and the video doesn’t show all of what he did in that set. But Paire isn’t as big a name as Kyrgios and that was a Challenger tournament he tanked in, not a Masters 1000. Still, many players have turned tanking it into an art form and with far more sinister things in mind if you ask me. Stories have circulated for years about how tournaments make promises to attract top players. It can be money, accomodations, tickets to other events in the area, etc. The players show up with no intention of playing out the tournament and they tank an early match, take their spoils from the organizers and move on. Fines? Suspensions? Nope.

So that leads to my original question – is today’s unprecedented suspension of Nick Kyrgios truly about tanking or is this simply targeting?

Listen, I’m not here to excuse Nick Kyrgios’ actions in Shanghai. He said it himself, that there is no excuse. Yes, Kyrgios is no choir boy. This isn’t the first time he’s tanked all or part of a match. Last July, he drew the focus of the media during a fourth round loss to Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon. In that instance though, it was a single game where Kyrgios appeared to not try at all to return Gasquet’s serves. In Shanghai, it was most of the match and that is what drew the ire of the media, fans, haters and Internet trolls alike. Let me say it, so you don’t mistake me for a Kyrgios apologist – he tanked that match in Shanghai against Mischa Zverev, period.

But here is why my brain is sizzling with some anger right now. I’ve done a lot of searching on the Interwebs today and one of the few instances I can find of a player being fined for allegedly tanking or “not giving their best efforts” is Marat Safin at the 2000 Australian Open. That amount was a paltry $2,000. As I channel my inner Allen Iverson, we talkin’ about FINES. Not suspensions. Today’s eight week suspension for Nick Kyrgios is uncharted territory for the ATP and i think it’s a dangerous precedent that has now been set.

Will the ATP treat all players equally for tanking? I have my doubts. Don’t think for a second that today’s punishment wasn’t more about the name Nick Kyrgios than the infraction. I have serious doubts that if Kyrgios had a cleaner slate of behavior that this instance of tanking would have been much of a talking point, never mind a two month suspension. But he is Nick Kyrgios and he does have that slate of bad behavior. But so do players like Tomic, Fognini, Paire and let’s not forget Monfils’ famous “tactical” tank against Novak Djokovic earlier this year at the U.S. Open.

The thing is how do you decide what is a tank and what is tactical and what is simply a player having a terrible day as he loses to someone he shouldn’t? You can’t. And that’s the danger of this ruling from the ATP today. The next time a player doesn’t give that old Deadpool MAXIMUM EFFORT, does he get fined or suspended? Or does it get glossed over if it’s not a lightning rod like Nick Kyrgios? My bet is the latter.

If you go over every ATP match played in a season with a fine tooth comb, you’ll find instances of tanking. We’ve all seen them, but up until now they usually get buried within a day other than maybe a YouTube video showing the glaring evidence. Today’s suspension has brought the issue of tanking to the forefront. Or maybe it’s just another witch hunt against an immature player who is the spotlight and the rest of the tour can keep on tanking to their heart’s delight without consequence.

It’s unfair if that is where the ATP Tour goes from this day forward. If the ATP is serious about cracking down on tanking as it has been with installing the Tennis Integrity Unit to combat gambling-related tanking, then today can’t be about Nick Kyrgios. Today has to be about TANKING, the act itself. And if the next instance of this act – and there will surely be another blatant act of it – doesn’t draw the ire of everyone and punishment from the ATP, then shame on them for what they did today. Nick Kyrgios deserved to be fined, but he doesn’t deserved to be made an example of with this ridiculous suspension. Not if everyone else won’t be held to the same standards of “conduct contrary to the integrity of the game.”

Time will tell if the ATP is serious or just guilty of the same poor judgment they think Kyrgios used in Shanghai.

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