Nick Kyrgios celebrates winning against Brandon Nakashima at the 2022 Wimbledon Championships (Image: AAP/Aaron Chown/PA Wire)

Nick Kyrgios walks into the Wimbledon quarter finals tomorrow night with a fresh pair of kicks, a number of fines, and a heavy load of polarised public opinion. While his talent is undisputed, his performance on court has become a tennis Rorschach test: what some interpret as heroic is seen by others as disrespectful.

Can one man be both? He certainly thinks so.

“I’m here in a Wimbledon quarter-final,” Kyrgios said following his five-set defeat of Brandon Nakashima that saw him progress to the quarter-finals. “And I just know there are so many people who are so upset. That’s a good feeling.”

David Rowe, emeritus professor of cultural research at Western Sydney University, writes regularly on sports and media culture and says that regardless of whether you are a Kyrgios fan or not, audiences are enraptured by him: “He is, kilo for kilo, the most newsworthy tennis player, male or female, in the world, so there is something that attracts us to him. It includes the tennis loving audience and the wider audience. He’s made that jump to that celebrity level.”

Rowe calls Kyrgios an “anti-hero” — someone we may not necessarily like but are nonetheless fascinated by. “People can’t look away.”

TV ratings tell a similar story. His “Special K” performance with doubles partner Thanasi Kokkinakis in the Australian Open earlier this year racked up strong figures.

Roger Rasheed, former coach of hothead predecessor Lleyton Hewitt, explained that the performative nature of sport is part and parcel to the game. “We watch sport for the characters of the game, the explosive ability of players,” he said. “We want them to express themselves. It’s the best form of reality TV you can watch. Sport would otherwise be very dull. ”

No stranger to a player with a performative approach, Rasheed explains that diversity in sporting personality among players illustrates how different athletes approach the game: “Some players see it just as a tennis court, others see it as a creative landscape. There’s theatre to that.”

Provided it is accompanied by “respect for the game, respect for the history of the game, and respect for people that are involved in the umbrella of the game”, Rasheed sees personality as an edge to be reckoned with on court.

Kyrgios was quiet in his last game. How he performs in his Wednesday night quarter-final remains to be seen. Either way, he will have an attentive audience.