Nick Kyrgios was back on the clay for the first time in three years on Tuesday and managed to secure a three-set comeback victory over world No 52 Mackenzie McDonald in the first round of the US Men’s Clay Court Championships. The 26-year-old was once again involved in a disagreement with the umpire as he complained he was “getting fined every time” he had to retaliate to what he believed were unfair calls, just a week after being hit with a £26k penalty when he fumed at umpire Carlos Bernardes at the Miami Open.
Kyrgios is playing his first and last clay tournament of the 2022 season in Houston this week, after confirming he’d be skipping the main European clay swing and heading home to Australia before grass-court season. It’s his first event on the surface since the 2019 Rome Masters, when he simultaneously quit his match against Casper Ruud and was defaulted after throwing a chair.
The current world No 94 came from a set down to claim a 4-6 6-3 6-4 victory in his first outing on the clay in three years but it wasn’t all good news for the wildcard in Houston, finding himself in another disagreement with a tennis official after finding himself on the receiving end of a foot fault call and a code violation. In what was his first match since he received a point and game penalty against Jannik Sinner in Miami when he raged at umpire Carlos Bernardes, Kyrgios complained that he was receiving fines “every time”, making him feel like he didn’t want to play.
The Aussie first received a foot fault when serving at 1-1 0-15 in the second set, giving him an automatic second serve. He disagreed with umpire Greg Allensworth and ended up saving break points to hold for 2-1, asking one of the linesmen to show him the mark before the changeover. “Like honestly I just, not that I really like care but it’s like. Like I’ve been doing this s*** now for nine years,” he started, muttering at the umpire while sitting on his bench.
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“I play one of the best serves and you’re still having to call foot fault. It’s like, I don’t wanna play, do you know what I mean? Because it’s every week now. What happens if that was a break point, the break point of a finals? I just wanna know,” he asked the umpire. “Why does it keep happening? because if I react, which I didn’t react that time, I get fined. I get fined every time and I just wanna know why? I did nothing wrong, I played to the rules, I’m honouring the game. ‘Foot fault’ and if I retaliate I get fined.”
Kyrgios took issue with the umpiring again when his shot was called long on a break point at 2-1. “What are you doing? Get up. Why is he looking at it like that? Is it that far out? I don’t see the mark but you can see how far out?” With umpires typically getting up to check physical ball marks during clay matches if they think it’s a close call, Allensworth confirmed it was a “pretty big out”.
The former world No 13 snapped back to ask why he looked at it “like that” as the umpire responded with a simple “I don’t know”. “What do you mean you don’t know, what are you doing up there?” Kyrgios continued. And it didn’t end there, as the six-time title winner earned himself a code violation after winning the second set.
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Kyrgios took a toilet break at the conclusion of the set, which is now times at three minutes with an additional two minutes if a player wishes to get changed in a new rule introduced at the start of the season. When arriving back on court, the linesperson who escorted him could be seen going up to Allensworth and speaking with him.
The umpire was then forced to hand the 26-year-old a code violation for unsportsmanline conduct when he found out Kyrgios did not use the toilet in his allotted toilet break and instead changed his shirt. Kyrgios still managed to go on to close out a three-set victory and will now face one of his friends on tour, seventh seed Tommy Paul in the next round.
Speaking after the match, the Aussie said: “Clay is obviously not my preferred surface, but I just served really well and started playing more aggressive and just found another gear. I did slip and slide a little bit, but my game actually suits the clay quite well. It’s a great atmosphere out here and the crowd’s pretty involved, so I’m looking forward to continuing to progress through the event.”