Tennis: Nick Kyrgios fully deserved to be brought to book for Stan Wawrinka sledge

Because timing is everything, as are accountability and appropriate governance, Eric Butorac carries a little black book everywhere. In it, he jots down matters to address in his official capacity, rather than in his role as a player on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour.

The American, 34, is a doubles specialist and the president of the ATP players' council. His black book, referenced by the New York Times last year, could hold special relevance this week, after Australian Nick Kyrgios' lewd mid-match sledge ("Kokkinakis ****** your girlfriend") to his opponent, world No.5 Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland during the Rogers Cup in Montreal.

The ATP players' council is a representative body with no enforcement powers. It discusses relevant issues and presents its findings to the ATP board of directors. So Butorac and his fellow councillors can debate the Kyrgios case, but cannot impose any punitive measures.

In a sense, Butorac now finds himself in the role of devil's advocate. He is elected to act in the best - and fairest - interests of the male players, but the Kyrgios case will catalyse fresh discussion of what constitutes fair verbal exchange on the tennis courts that are literally the workplace of today's professionals.

And precisely because timing is everything, one salient fact cannot be ignored in the Kyrgios incident. Did the Australian apologise on court, after the remark? No. Did he apologise in the locker room after the match, when Wawrinka sought him out? No.

His apology came only after he was fined US$10,000 (S$14,000) by the ATP, a day after the incident.

Delayed-action contrition does not always smack of genuine remorse, but at least it is a start. "In addition to the private apology I've made," he finally said on Thursday, "I would like to make a public apology as well. I take full responsibility for my actions and regret what happened."

But earlier, during the on-court interview after Wawrinka withdrew in the third set because of a back injury. Kyrgios' body language spoke volumes. When questioned almost apologetically by the interviewer, the Australian refused to make eye contact while answering and his shrug at the end of his casual explanation suggested that he possibly didn't care about his jibe or its wider consequences.

The ATP's warning that "additional penalties may be forthcoming" is a reminder that accountability is paramount in professional sport. In a simple equation, the higher the rewards for professional athletes, the higher the expectation that they conduct themselves appropriately.

When this does not happen, the consequences, especially in the instant-media era, are often financially and professionally damaging for those who do not conform. Visual or audio proof of inappropriate behaviour - Kyrgios' remark was picked up by an on-court microphone - is in most cases legally irrefutable.

Notably, he is not the only person to become ensnared in controversy on this basis.

Recently, two high-profile cases based largely on electronic proof prompted major US sporting bodies to apply significant retribution. In April last year, Donald Sterling was forced by the National Basketball Commission (NBA) to sell his 33-year, US$2 billion stake in the Los Angeles Clippers and fined US$2.5 million after an audio recording surfaced of him making racist remarks.

Just five months later, CCTV footage effectively forced the National Football League (NFL) to suspend Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice, ending his career. A surveillance camera in an Atlantic City casino elevator showed Rice punching his then-fiancee and dragging her apparently unconscious body out when the doors opened.

So let's put this in overall perspective. Kyrgios' on-court infraction is a long way removed from blatant racism, as in the Sterling case, or domestic violence, as in the Rice incident. But it needs to be seen in the context of the dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour by a tennis player while on court.

Social media has already erupted over the issue, while some former and current players have also weighed into the debate, but ultimately it is the ATP that must decide whether or not to take further action against Kyrgios.

There is another interesting sub-plot to the Rogers Cup incident. Wawrinka is also a member of the ATP player council, as is John Isner, who despatched Kyrgios 7-5, 6-3 in the next round at Montreal.

Like all professional sportsmen, Kyrgios must be an ambassador for his sport. And bearing in mind the item that Butorac always carries around with him, perhaps the Australian should prepare for the ATP to throw the book at him.

dmcmahon@sph.com.sg