Teenager Is One of Australia’s Remaining Hopes
With a serve that can reach nearly 137 miles per hour and a powerful all-court game, Nick Kyrgios has been gaining attention for some time.
After early exits for Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic on Tuesday, the burden of Australian expectations in the men’s draw has shifted to the 18-year-old Kyrgios. He bludgeoned 71 winners on the way to an impressive 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (2) first-round victory over the German veteran Benjamin Becker. He will play the No. 27 seed Benoit Paire of France in the second round.
“It was really special, this win,” Kyrgios told reporters afterward. “He’s a really solid player. I knew I was going to have to hit through him a bit. My game sort of revolves around being pretty aggressive.”
Kyrgios, 6-foot-3 and agile, looks born to play tennis on the big stage, but when he first took to the court in Canberra at 4, Coach Andrew Bulley did not see him as a natural athlete.
Lleyton Hewitt came back from two sets down against Andreas Seppi only to lose in five.Australians’ Grand Slam Hopes Wilt in Melbourne HeatJAN. 14, 2014
The youngster was described as “chubby” and “a bit slow,” but what he lacked in foot speed he seemed to compensate for by exploiting his opponent’s weaknesses and possessing a relentless determination to win.
These qualities were in evidence Tuesday as midafternoon temperatures neared 108 degrees. But Kyrgios said the heat, which will continue through the end of the week, worked to his advantage.
“I think it suits my game pretty well,” he told reporters. “The more aggressive you are, I think it helps a lot. It helps my serving. Obviously it’s affecting everyone out there. You got to stay hydrated. You got to be smart with nutrition, as well.”
Kyrgios has not always been quite so smart with his nutrition. But after a breakthrough 2012 season, when he won the boys’ doubles titles at Wimbledon and the French Open, he lost more than 10 pounds during an intense off-season training regime.
The results were immediate. In 2013, he established himself as the world’s leading teenager, claiming the Australian Open junior title before becoming the youngest winner of an ATP Challenger Tour event since Rafael Nadal. He also defeated Radek Stepanek in the first round of the French Open.
The latter two accomplishments were achieved under the watchful eye of Simon Rea, a New Zealander who has played a key role in helping his young charge adjust to the mental demands of the pro tour.
“If you start showing a lot of emotion, then the guys at the top level take advantage,” Kyrgios said in an interview before the Australian Open. “You just have to stay really composed on court and take your time when you need to.”
That maturity is evident in a growing number of young Australian prospects, including the 19-year-old Jordan Thompson, who led No. 20 seed Jerzy Janowicz by two sets to love Monday one before losing in five. Thanasi Kokkinakis, 17, advanced to the second round and will face No. 1 Rafael Nadal next.
“A lot of people are saying the next generation is coming through,” Kyrgios said. “It’s pretty exciting for us. A bit of expectation and pressure. But we’re all a pretty close bunch. Me and Thommo have grown up together and I’m expecting big things from him this year. We’re pushing each other. Having the likes of Lleyton still going out there and competing with the best, it sets a good example for us young guys. We’re doing our best to get some results.”