Professional athletes don’t owe you anything.

Stop criticizing them for a lack of ‘focus’ or ‘effort.’ I hear this a lot, often from tennis fans, and it’s really been getting on my nerves. People will watch a player who has shown immense talent fail to live up to expectations that media has created for him or her, and they’ll be disappointed. They’ll say things like, “Man, what a shame to see talent like that go to waste.”

I was reminded of how dumb people are when I saw a post in the tennis forum on reddit. It was a discussion on Nick Kyrgios, a 19-year-old Australian who made waves at Wimbledon this year by knocking out Rafael Nadal on his way to the quarterfinals:

“I am an Australian who has always supported him live here at the Aus Open, but I just wish Nick Kyrgios wasn’t SO COCKY! Photobombing Serena, flirting with Vika [Victoria Azarenka] and other antics = Mark Phillippoussis [sic] 2.0? Anybody else think these signs might be worrying?”

I was dumbfounded (get it?), so, naturally, I kept reading:

“I support him fully and I don’t want him to become the next Bernard Tomic.”

Ah, so there’s precedent. For those who don’t follow tennis like I do, Bernard Tomic is the most famous professional tennis player never to surpass 27th in the world rankings. (Fact checking for the previous sentence included, and was limited to, googling whether Anna Kournikova ever got higher than 27th. She did.) Tomic was extremely successful as a youngster, winning all sorts of junior tournaments, and was supposed to claim the tennis-superstar-from-Australia throne left behind by Lleyton Hewitt. Tomic’s parents are from Yugoslavia, and moved to Queensland when he was three years old, which explains why there’s an Australian named Bernard Tomic.

Tomic has shown flashes of brilliance on the top level, reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2011 as an 18-year-old (sound familiar?), but he hasn’t gotten that far at a grand slam since then, and has only won two tournaments in that span. His inconsistent (read: not very good) results have been portrayed by the media as being a result of a lack of dedication to the game of tennis. Media often cite his partying, legal troubles, fancy cars, and bad on-court attitude as examples thereof. The Courier Mail, a prominent Australian newspaper, summed up the nation’s feelings on Tomic in an article entitled “It seems Australians love to hate Bernard Tomic — but is that fair?”

“Australia loves nothing more than a bad boy turned good story — but he is giving us nothing to work with. In this case I believe we have the chronicles of a bad boy gone lazy.”

This is dumb. Tomic is a professional tennis player. Currently, he is the 56th best male tennis player in the world. Until you’re the 56th best in the world at anything, you have no right to speak to how he should behave in this situation. Obviously you can’t condone illegal behavior, but other than that, leave the kid alone. I think I’m going to punch the next person I hear say something like, “If I had that much natural ability, I would work so much harder.”

Yeah, sure you would. Get back to me when you’re getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars at an extremely young age for playing a game that you happen to be really good at. It’s completely unfair of you to impose your own desires on another human being who has his or her own personal motivations. Has it never occurred to you that, oh I don’t know, maybe he doesn’t like tennis very much? Maybe he plays tennis because it’s a job and it’s a good way to make a living, not ‘for the love of the game’ or whatever idiotic cliche people ascribe to athletes who look like they’re trying really hard to make up for a lack of natural athleticism. Telling Tomic to take tennis more seriously, i.e., to like tennis more, is like telling every tall person you meet, “Hey, you should play basketball!” It’s ridiculous. Maybe he’s perfectly happy having made $2,413,735 at the age of twenty-two, and not particularly motivated to train hard everyday. He has no obligation to live up to any sort of expectation others have put on him.

Also, this is tennis we’re talking about. Besides sponsorships, tennis players are paid strictly according to performance; as in other individual sports, there are no contracts that players might feel obligated to live up to. Contracts might be a valid counterargument in the context of another sport, but it would only hold for baseball and basketball, where contracts are guaranteed, but even in those then I’d contend that players are not paid for performance, they’re paid for past performance. They’re playing for their next contract, not their current one.

Fans, apparently, fear that the 19-year-old Kyrgios is on his way to becoming the next Tomic or Mark Philippoussis, another outrageously-talented, oft-criticized Australian tennis player whose performance never quite matched the hype. Well I’ve got a message for the critics: not everybody wants to be the best ever. Some are content being merely a star, and there’s no shame in that.