(Reuters) - Nick Kyrgios has defended compatriot Bernard Tomic against allegations of failing to try during a match and said it was up to the Australian Olympic Committee whether the pair were picked to represent the country at the Rio Olympics.
The 21-year-old and Tomic were warned by Australia’s Olympic chef de mission Kitty Chiller at the weekend that they were among a group of athletes whose behavior was being monitored to judge their suitability for the Rio team.
“If you don’t want to pick me or Bernard, there are plenty of others you can pick to represent your country as well,” Kyrgios told reporters after winning his opening match at the Italian Open in Rome on Monday.
“If you don’t want two of the best players in Australia to represent your country, so be it.”
Kyrgios, Australia’s highest ranked player at number 20 in the world, combines a rare tennis talent with a reputation for firing insults at fellow players, officials and fans.
It is Tomic, however, who has been most under fire in Australia in recent weeks, continuing an unhappy relationship with the local media that goes back several years.
The world number 22 was lambasted last week for holding his racket by the strings and not offering a shot when facing match point against Fabio Fognini at the Madrid Open.
Tomic’s response -- “Would you care if you were 23 and worth over $10 million?” -- was described as “appalling” by Chiller and the criticism intensified when he pulled out of his opening match in Rome after just eight minutes, citing illness.
Kyrgios, who was criticized by Tomic for skipping a Davis Cup match in March because of illness, defended his fellow young gun against the charges that he had “tanked” the match.
“Yeah, for sure I think ... the behavior has to be monitored going into the Olympics, representing your country,” Kyrgios added.
”But, you know at the same time I think, with Bernard’s case with that match point - I mean, it’s not easy playing Fabio on clay. It’s Bernard’s least preferred surface.
“I‘m sure he competed nearly every other point in the match. I don’t really know what he was doing, but that one point he gets scorched for when he probably tried his heart out the rest of the match.”
Tennis Australia nominates athletes for Olympic selection and Kyrgios and Tomic are likely to head their picks for the Aug. 5-21 Games.
In Tomic’s case the point may be moot with the Australian newspaper reporting he had signed up to play in a tournament in Los Cabos, Mexico that takes place during the Games.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford