Sport Tennis Australian Open: Say hello to the new, possibly maturing, Nick Kyrgios

Australian Open: Say hello to the new, possibly maturing, Nick Kyrgios

Nick Kyrgios makes no bones about it - his best tennis thrives on a big crowd. Murray River Open
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With a big hello to Jerry Maguire, Nick Kyrgios had me at “dickhead”. Well, almost.

How encouraging to Kyrgios admit he was being one, by haranguing his player box for their unoriginal support messages during Thursday night’s brief hiccup against Gilles Simon.

With a little more evidence of effort and decorum when all seems lost we could be on the verge of a national embrace of the 24-year-old rare talent historically prone to childish carry-on.

And how much closer that reclamation seems than could have been imagined before January began.

Kyrgios is growing up before our suspicious eyes – or not, still, depending on your perspective.

He has been the kid with the big reputation and appealing candour who beat world No.1 Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014, and the undisciplined renegade who is wasting his talent, or at least threatening to, and yet still – in the end – may not.

That’s for Kyrgios to determine and the rest of us to wait and see, but how fascinating the past few weeks have already been.

Feeling the love: Nick Kyrgios is showing a different side this tournament. Photo: AAP

Like the bushfire cause to which he has so admirably lent his name and energies, that is not exactly news, but nor does it make it unworthy of an update.

Kyrgios’ wish to remain on his beloved Melbourne Arena for Saturday night’s third round against Russian 16th seed Karen Khachanov may well be accommodated by organisers keen to keep him happy for so long as he and the other star attraction – Ash Barty – remain in the mix.

Have no doubt though, that Rod Laver Arena will host a potential Kyrgios-Rafa cracker on Monday. All forehands point in that direction, and tickets, if you can get them, are on sale now.

Melbourne Arena then closes – for tennis business, anyway – and the annual AO/NBL clash is scheduled between Melbourne United and the Perth Wildcats on Wednesday night.

Hoops, of course, are the passion of a player who often trains and turns up to media events in a basketball singlet. The Lakers, yesterday, Celtics today.

Perhaps there’s an I’ll-wear-whatever-I-like-when-I’m-not-on-court clause written into the endorsement contract, but it’s hard to imagine $US300 million ($437m) Uniqlo man Roger Federer being seen in anything else while on duty. Never mind the cost of the lost exposure to Kyrgios’ apparel sponsor, who clearly grew accustomed to his unconventional ways long ago.

What he brings is everything from brilliant and entertaining to outrageous and appalling. Compelling either way? Perhaps in the minority, this hand has always been raised.

While not excusing or condoning the worst of his behaviour, the best of Kyrgios is something to behold.

And not just for a game built around a ridiculous talent, and a serve John McEnroe rates among the 10 best of all time. Who didn’t love the Rafa underwear-tugging routine after a poor umpiring moment that led to a time violation warning to a player who deserves it least?

What has been less impressive is obvious, but that can remain in the shame file until any new entries are needed. Perhaps they won’t be.

That’s the hope, and if trying to turn Kyrgios into someone he isn’t is a wasted exercise then part two is understanding that he will never be predictable, or always behave as most of us would like.

It may be no coincidence that, by his usually prolific standards, Kyrgios has been relatively quiet on social media during the past, nicely controlled, week.

He fired up most notably at what he – and others – considered the insensitive treatment of his friend and mixed doubles partner, Amanda Animisova.

After the young American lost her first grand slam match since the death of her father and coach to a heart attack in August, Anisimova was reduced to tears in her media conference when she was asked if the circumstances had made her feel “unsettled”.

A gallant Kygrios soon rose to her defence by tweeting: “This makes me so mad. Have a heart and please feel, it’s not fair. Keep your head up Amanda #alwayswatching”

Of course he is, for holding critics and journalists to account is a favourite hobby.

That response, though, was completely in character, just as it would not have been surprising if the charming big-name-player kissing a ballgirl in apology for an accidental smack in the face had hailed from Canberra rather than Majorca.

Other posts have mostly been NBA or bushfire-fundraising related, and there seems no doubt that the latter cause, which Kyrgios famously initiated, has given him not just a purpose but a focus outside the training grind of forehands and backhands that can sometimes wear thin.

All of which is fabulous, of course, when things are going well, and Thursday night’s positive example came through a wobble that was able to be corrected, followed by the maturity to apologise for behaviour towards his long-suffering but sometimes-enabling entourage that clearly crossed the line.

Yet one suspects that Kyrgios might always straddle it, which makes it so interesting to hear the thoughts of John McEnroe on a subject for which he is supremely-well-qualified.

What may surprise some readers is the knowledge that Kyrgios, in his own way, is also a student of the game.

Indeed, one imagines that if such a natural commentator was in the Rod Laver Arena bunker on Saturday night, rather than as the star attraction on the stage he prefers, the 23rd seed would have plenty of positive words for 20-year-old compatriot Alexei Popyrin, who meets fourth seed Daniil Medvedev.

The quietly spoken Spanish-based Popyrin is the youngest Australian remaining in either singles draw on the middle weekend, and a more different character to Kyrgios it would be hard to find.

Game-wise, though, there are obvious comparisons between the rangy Popyrin and the Davis Cup teammate he describes as “a great guy”.

“I think our games are very, very similar: big serve, big forehand, looking to come in. Got a little bit of flair. All that, I think there’s a lot of similarities in our game.’’

Kyrgios. A little bit of flair? Bravo, Alexei, for there’s something to be said for understatement. And kudos to the maturing #NKRising. Maybe.

Or perhaps hello will do for now.