Australian legends Pat Cash and Mark Philippoussis believe the future is bright for Nick Kyrgios following the teenager’s astounding run to the quarter-finals in Melbourne.
The 19-year-old from Canberra saw his dream Australian Open come to an end at the hands of world No6 Andy Murray on Tuesday, but has shown great promise in the way he played through back problems, fought from two sets down against Andreas Seppi in the fourth round and handled the home pressure.
Kyrgios, who is expected to rise to a career-high No35 when the new rankings come out on Monday, is yet to make his mark on the ATP tour, the same way he has succeeded in the majors.
The young Aussie has already reached two grand slam quarter-finals – in Wimbledon last year and this fortnight in Melbourne – but has registered just one single victory in ATP tournaments.
This statistic could suggest that Kyrgios – a guy with a penchant for showmanship - is more comfortable bringing his A-game on the biggest stage, rather than on a smaller one.
Cash, a champion at Wimbledon in 1987, was surprised to learn about Kyrgios’ contrasting results in majors and tour-level events. “It’s unusual, I didn’t know that. It just goes to show he’s able to combine the power and the game to match it with the big hitters,” Cash tells me.
“Usually at Challenger level the guys make mistakes and you can get away with some bad games. The good thing about Nick is that he’s got enough firepower to match it with the bigger guys on the circuit.
“In the grand slams you do get better draws because the seeds are separated. Somebody knocks out a seed or you have a good day against a seed, you can get lucky. In the Masters 1000 every match is really difficult.
“Nick will be fine. He’s got better focus than someone like Bernie Tomic, who loves the big stage but struggles on the smaller courts. He’s only 19. He’ll be fine.”
Philippousis, a retired two-time grand slam runner-up, feels that with careful tournament scheduling, Kyrgios can perform well on tour, the same way he has in the slams so far.
“I think the unique thing about Nick is that certain guys need match play, they need a lot of hours on the court because of the way they hit the ball. The way that Nick plays, with the weapons he has, he’s not one of these guys that needs to play a lot of matches,” said Philippoussis.
“He needs obviously to be hitting balls and be feeling strong but certain guys would panic if they don’t have match play, he’s not that kind of guy. As long as he’s physically healthy and he’s out there, that’s all he needs.
“He’s just got to plan his schedule right, and make sure he peaks for the big tournaments.”
Kyrgios had been the centre of attention in Melbourne the last couple of weeks for both positive and negative reasons.
While many admire his explosiveness and swagger, others have been critical of his on-court outbursts and showing-off tendencies.
Murray addressed the crowd at Rod Laver Arena after their quarter-final asking them not pile the pressure on the young Aussie.
“He's gonna make some mistakes, he's young… Growing up in the spotlight isn't easy,” said Murray, who has his fair share of issues with the public growing up and has dealt with lots of pressure trying to win his home slam.
“He just needs to be allowed to grow up.”
When told about Murray’s comments, Kyrgios said: “Just listen to Andy, I guess. He's pretty successful.”
Kyrgios admits it has been a stressful few weeks for him, trying to recover from a back injury and dealing with all the expectation and attention. He was struggling to sleep between his matches and ended up getting some lines shaved on the side of his head at 1:00am as a distraction.
“It's just been a rollercoaster the last couple days. Not getting much sleep obviously. It's been a lot of fun, but at the same it's been pretty stressful. But, I've enjoyed it. I'm just happy that I got as far as I did,” said Kyrgios, who added that the priority now was to get his back in good shape again before playing in Marseille and Dubai.