MELBOURNE: Australia’s Nick Kyrgios put his country’s bushfire disaster behind him and gave home fans something to cheer about with a first-round win at the Australian Open.
Long a polarising figure for his on-court antics, the enigmatic 24-year-old has won new fans for his efforts to mobilise support for victims of the deadly blazes, and he was welcomed onto Melbourne Arena by huge roars.
He thrived in the atmosphere, grinding down Italian Lorenzo Sonego 6-2, 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/1).
“I was just really excited to get out here. Obviously a pretty emotional couple of months for all of us, so I just wanted to come out and put on a good performance,” said the Australian, who has never gone beyond the last eight at a Major.
“This is my favourite court in the world... I feel super comfortable. You guys are the best. I feel the support.”
Kyrgios said ahead of the tournament he was finding it hard to concentrate on his home Grand Slam after the emotions sparked by the fires that have devastated huge tracts of Australia.
But he rose to the challenge and the 23rd seed did so in largely drama-free fashion, keeping himself calm for most of the match.
The pair were locked at 2-2 before Kyrgios claimed a first break and then motored through his next service game, dropping one point on Sonego’s next serve to open a 5-2 lead before sealing the set.
They were inseparable in the second set as the lights on Melbourne Arena briefly went out, with coachless Kyrgios heard saying: “You know how hard it is to block that out, it’s impossible.”
But with ATP Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt watching from his box, he came through a tense tie-breaker to go two sets ahead.
Displaying all his tricks, including some trademark “tweeners”, Kyrgios closed out the match in another testing tiebreaker as the crowd went wild, with a second round clash looming against either France’s Gilles Simon or Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas.
With Kyrgios not facing a single break point, television commentator John McEnroe lavished praise on his booming serve.
“He has actually got one of the best serves I’ve ever seen,” said the tennis legend. “Top 10, ever. He has got pop. He can do anything with it.”