At the age of 20, Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios already faces the public scrutiny of being considered a dark horse contender for the 2018 Davis Cup team, and this week, he came under fire for his comments about vaccinations.
Several hours before taking on the World No. 9, Rafael Nadal, at the Shanghai Masters on Tuesday, Kyrgios spoke to ESPN on a contentious topic — his decision to have been vaccinated against rotavirus, and whether he could vouch for his compatriots who have not been vaccinated.
“I had to get a few little shots in my knee,” Kyrgios said. “I was a bit late for that one.”
The Rotavirus virus causes diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration, and has been linked to nearly half a million deaths in children under 5 in developing countries per year. Vaccinations are especially important, since Rotavirus infections can result in appendicitis, which requires a lengthy hospital stay and serious recovery.
“My guess is I’m alright,” Kyrgios said, when asked if he trusts all his teammates. “There’s a lot of speculation with that vaccine, but I don’t think it’s anybody’s business what their health and safety is.”
Kyrgios had tweeted on Monday night he would speak on the subject on Tuesday, but later claimed that his initial comments had been misinterpreted.
“While I have no desire to incite panic, I regret the timing of my comments regarding the Rotavirus vaccine,” Kyrgios tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. “I would never encourage parents to keep their child home from school on account of their vaccination status.”
According to a reporter in China, who spoke with a member of Kyrgios’ entourage, Kyrgios received the vaccines in February, in time for the Australian Open. There, he returned to a professional appearance after sitting out the 2017 U.S. Open with an elbow injury.
The reception for Kyrgios in Shanghai on Tuesday, though, was not favourable.
“I know players don’t vaccinate their kids but that’s their choice to do it,” Nadal said when asked about Kyrgios’ comments. “They shouldn’t talk about other players. I hope all the players are vaccinated and have a good quality of life.”
Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, the top seed in Shanghai and speaking to the BBC on Monday, noted Kyrgios has a “responsibility” to not “jump to conclusions.” Kyrgios has a history of erratic and volatile behavior on the tennis court, as well as a disturbing attitude toward on-court officiating.
Many are quick to criticise the World No. 9 for flouting professional sports’ dress code policy, where players must not sport footwear that has a visible elastic strap, and he wore a pair of Nike running sneakers on the court on Tuesday. Kyrgios then switched to a pair of yellow-soled tennis shoes for his doubles match.
“He’s got to do what’s in his own interest,” Murray told the BBC. “People look at the weight of the game, the pressure of playing the best players in the world, and he’s obviously doing things that maybe he should have done two, three, four years ago, instead of just the last 12 months.
“It’s not good, obviously. He’s got to make sure he’s doing everything he needs to do to improve his game, and maybe get out there and play better tennis and hopefully get back to where he’s been in the past.”
This was not Kyrgios’ first controversy this season. He also got into it with fellow Australian James Duckworth after appearing to target Duckworth’s father’s appearance in a Darren Cahill interview.
“James,” Kyrgios said, “have you seen your Dad with that guy? I’m done with guys like that. My team, they tell me not to talk to reporters, but my Dad always come to the press conference anyway.”
The only thing Kyrgios doesn’t seem to be upset about is the red dust kicked up by the crowd as he left court.